HR professionals and teams need to develop better capability and capacity in utilising data and analytics to drive leadership development outcomes, according to Development Dimensions International (DDI).

“Our research has found that this is not a natural strength of the profession so we need to either develop it or source it from somewhere else,” said Mark Busine, managing director of DDI Australia.

“HR can draw from examples in other fields which now employ dedicated analysist/mathematicians to make sense of data and information.”

Busine said it is important to adopt a curious mind and not to assume that what has been done in the past will necessarily be right for the future.

“The world of work is changing, the environment we operate is constantly moving and the demands of leadership constantly evolving,” he said.

“Implement processes that ensure key talent is not overlooked merely because they don’t come from the ‘right’ functions.”

The importance of analytics and data in driving leadership development insights was underscored by recent DDI research, which found that about half of organisations don’t employ any form of leadership analytics.

“We’re at a point in time where the whole area of analytics might play a much greater role in really trying to understand what does work and what doesn’t work in predicting what contributes to success rather than failure in leadership,” said Busine.

“It’s important to have some data that gives you confidence that what you’re doing within the terms of leadership development is actually working,” said Busine, who noted that the research indicated about 24 per cent of organisations do this well.

Analytics can also play an important role in using data to forecast future leadership needs.

“This is where you really start to understand where you’re at presently, look at the requirements of the future, identify what the gaps are and predict what is required to close those gaps,” he said.

The DDI research found that only about 20 per cent of organisations are doing this well, and Busine said it is important to gather metrics around business impact as a result of leadership programs.

“In other words, business should be really trying to connect what they’re doing from a leadership development perspective back to what they’re trying to deliver on as an organisation,” he said.

The number 1 skill for successful leadership
A DDI research report also found that leaders who master listening and responding with empathy will perform more than 40 per cent higher in overall performance, coaching, engaging others, planning, organising and decision making.

Being able to listen and respond with empathy is overwhelmingly the one interaction skill that outshines all other skills leaders need to be successful, said Richard Wellins, senior vice president for DDI.

Leaders have multiple conversations with a range of constituents every day, and Wellins said each of these interactions will collectively determine their ultimate success as a leader.

Leaders who were highly successful in DDI’s research were able to use empathy to understand key constituents’ concerns, frustrations and feelings, and Wellins said using empathy is very important to diffuse conflict and learn more about facts, circumstances and/or feelings.

DDI defines empathy as acknowledging others’ feelings and circumstances when they express emotion verbally or nonverbally, and empathy involves letting others know that their feelings are understood and helps them to feel that their perspective is being taken into account.

The High-Resolution Leadership report is based on analysis of real behaviours in assessment centre simulations from more than 15,000 leaders across 300 companies in 18 countries over a decade.

“The research shows there is no other single leadership skill that is more important and yet, in today’s culture, empathy is near extinction. I believe it is one of the most dangerous global trends of our time,” he added.

There is a wealth of research that shows empathy is on the decline, and with the advancement of technology, Wellins said it has become commonplace to send an email or text and eliminate conversations altogether.

“Many in today’s workplace think sending an emoticon is equivalent to responding with empathy,” said Wellins. “It just isn’t so.”

For example, a study released by the University of Michigan reported that college students are 40 per cent less likely to have empathy compared to 20 to 30 years ago.

DDI’s report found the same in today’s workplace, and only 40 per cent frontline leaders were proficient or strong in empathy.

Of the eight leadership interaction skills measured, listening and responding with empathy was one of the weakest.

The globalisation of leadership
The High-Resolution Leadership report also pointed to the globalisation of leadership development, which is in line with the globalisation of organisations, according to Busine.

Both the content of leadership development (such as building skills around communicating globally, knowledge around cultural differences or operating in a global environment) as well as the mechanisms used to deliver leadership development in a global context are being impacted, according to Busine.

“So how do you maintain consistency? How do you allow for local context to be still relevant and embedded in a lot of the leadership development?” said Busine, who observed that the globalisation of leadership development is gaining pace.

“Volatility and uncertainty will inevitably continue over the next three to five years, so organisations need to constantly ensure that what they’re doing from a leadership development perspective is relevant to where the organisation’s at,” he said.

“Part of this is about how you help leaders adjust to that new normal, and our research has found that probably only 18 per cent of leaders feel comfortable in that highly volatile environment.”

While there is a trend towards globalisation of leadership, Busine said one trend that will remain the same over the coming few years is the move to knowledge-based organisations.

“It’s people who create the value in intellectual capital,” he said.

“As a leader, your ability to manage that resource – people – is fundamentally critical.”

Leaders spend a lot of time in either one-on-one or group conversations in knowledge-based organisations, however, Busine said the DDI research revealed the quality of such conversations is generally poor.

“There are a lot of executives out there that are not particularly skilled at facilitating good quality conversations,” he said.

“So over the next three to five years, the ability to have really good, high quality conversations, in a range of different contexts, will be pretty critical.”

3 ways HR can improve its leadership development analytics capability

  • Focus on improving HR’s own skill gaps in areas such as financial acumen, global acumen, and business savvy. These gaps are holding HR back from opportunities to operate at more executive levels.
  • Build key internal partnerships with leaders from other functions which can enhance their own knowledge – don’t just be the employee advocate.
  • Operate as an ‘anticipator’: HR anticipators are more strongly connected to strategic planning and provide more valuable talent analytics data as a business partner.

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