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Do Senior Leaders Trust Development?

Organisations all over the world are struggling to change; they invest millions in consultants, new systems etc. but still the proportion they invest in the development of the people who have to lead and implement change is far too small. Is it because they think people don’t need it or they don’t believe development will really help?

I suspect it is a bit of both.  Certainly senior managers are deeply in the thrall of ‘pseudo rationality’; the touching belief that if something makes sense to them it will be equally obvious and compelling to someone else - with the adjustment of a reward or sanction or two!  Every single piece of significant psychological research into human decision making over the last 25 years would show this is unlikely. In fact, you could argue that this is a wishful, irrational belief in human nature and behaviour.

Development, as opposed to briefing, instruction or command, has an uneasy track record with senior leaders. Too often development gets distorted; filtered through status needs, poor delivery and a failure to be relevant and focused. We are too often confused in how we develop people using delivery sources which are abstract, over complex and lacking contextual understanding.

Development often confuses theoretical abstractions with practical wisdom and insight.  It is like trying to improve your golf swing by using someone who has a doctorate in the history of golf, rather than a professional golf coach.

So, to carry out successful development, it needs to be relevant to the organisation.  Specific organisational challenges need to be understood and development tailored around finding a resolution to these challenges.  Successful development is not just about increasing knowledge and understanding but should be centred on changes in behaviour, and should seek to develop individuals towards improved collaboration and more effective ways of working.

A development programme should be both sustainable and impactful by delivering both immediate and sustainable change.  To successfully control and influence growth, acquisition and workforce turnover and help to drive strategic change within businesses, the focus needs to be on development that is centred on business challenges and business objectives.  Not just development of one element in isolation but development across all the functions that influence the success of the business; the development of self, team, network and business.

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