The Marriage of Technology and Learning

elearningAs human resource and development experts, we recognize the value of technology in meeting our workforce needs. As a tool, it enhances the flexibility, interactivity, customization, and accessibility to key information and content. It grants us data necessary to assess our success and enhance our value proposition. Moreover, technology grants us the ability to move from being a transactional to a strategic resource by allowing us to redeploy our expertise and resources.
Without a doubt, organizational learning programs continue to gain in efficiency and effectiveness as traditional processes evolve into more automated ones. Not only has learning technology enabled us to reach employees in a more convenient and cost effective manner, but also technology permits us to customize content to meet the needs of individual learners. In our current environment of increasing competition, successful organizations must possess the ability to deploy critical knowledge to employees on a short time frame in different sites and on different schedules while managing costs.

Recent research indicates that e-learning will shortly surpass instructor-led training as the most often utilized method of employee education (Chief Learning Officer, Learning Technology Report 2014). While most organizations still offer instructor-led training, the majority continue to grow their e-learning offerings each year. In addition, among the more than 75 percent of organizations that currently utilize e-learning tools, almost a third of organizations plan to invest in new learning systems in the coming year (

Clearly, the marriage of technology and learning continues to flourish.

For those of us involved in insuring the success of learners, what do we need to know about the trends in technology-enabled learning?

Cost Savings: Cost savings remain the primary business driver for change from instructor-based to e-learning. Estimates place delivering the content (instructor time, travel, materials) at 85 percent of every dollar spent on classroom training. Average cost savings by transition to e-learning ranges between 50 and 70 percent (IBM). Similarly, HCS estimates that e-learning reduces instruction time by as much as 60 percent, thus reducing the participant opportunity cost. E-learning provide courses in shorter sessions and across different days reducing the need for an employee to miss an entire day or work and remain in the office.

Impact on Productivity: IBM estimates that organizations that utilize e-learning tools and strategies have the potential to boost productivity by up to 50%. In other words, for every dollar that a company spends on e-learning, productivity increases by up to $30.

Competitive Advantage: According to 2011 Towards Maturity Benchmark Survey, 72 percent of the 600 companies surveyed indicated that e-learning and mobile learning helped their business adapt more quickly to change and be more competitive. Another way that e-learning helps improve the competitive advantage of an organization is by retaining its key team members. According to the National Research Business Institute, 23 percent of employees leave for lack of development opportunities and training. In those organizations adopting an e-learning approach, satisfaction with access to training goes up by more than 25 percent (HCS, 2013).

Convergence of Access and Mobility: Mobile learning offerings appear in the arsenals of more than 25 percent of organizations (Learning Technology Report, 2014). This trend coincides with the reduction of desktop-based computing and more mobility. According to IDC, the number of PCs will fall from 28.7 percent of the device market in 2013 to 13 percent in 2017. Tablets will increase from 11.8 percent in 2013 to 16.5 percent by 2017, and smartphones will increase from 59.5 percent to 70.5 percent. The next step in the migration of delivery will be to individual devices.

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Competence, Perceptions, and Results

Figure 1: Comparison of Actual and Perceived Competence in Three Small Firms

Figure 1: Comparison of Actual and Perceived Competence in Three Small Firms

Most of us would agree that competence plays a critical role in performance and job success. If an employee fails to possess the knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary to perform their job, high levels of performance remains out of reach. Over the last several decades, many organizations have adopted more progressive and accurate means of identifying, measuring, and developing competencies, while implementing automated methods of managing human resources. This combination of readily available as well as actionable information has significantly altered how we hire, review, develop, reward, and promote employees. Moreover, by increasing our insight, it has transformed the way we think about performance and growth.

Recently, I reviewed a small collection of organizations that center their human resource management on competencies. Approximately ten years ago, each one transitioned from a more traditional, task-based approach to using competencies as the basis of managing performance and development. As part of working with them, a common concern arose related to the gap between employee perceptions of themselves and the perceptions of those around them, especially supervisors and peers. Specifically, each organization worried that self-evaluators tend to over-rate themselves and failed to seek necessary growth opportunities within their system. Put simply, even in an environment with insightful tools and numerous opportunities for growth, the low performers persisted in their assumption that they possessed the necessary competency levels.

The prevalence of this type of human behavior has resulted in extensive research and even a name for the phenomenon: the Dunning–Kruger effect (Kruger, Justin; Dunning, David (1999). “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments”. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34.). Utilizing data from students, the study demonstrated that lower performing students grossly overestimated their own performance, while excellent students somewhat underestimated theirs. Dunning and Krueger concluded that the effect occurs when a cognitive bias manifests in unskilled individuals suffering from illusory superiority by rating their ability much higher than reality. The bias stems from an inability to recognize our own ineptitude. Dunning and Kruger surmised that incompetent people fail to recognize their own incompetence due to: tending to overestimate their own level of skill; failing to recognize genuine skill in others; and failing to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.

Similarly, the effect influences the skilled or competent by blinding them to the relative ability of others. Competent people tend to underestimate their relative competence by assuming that things easy for them must be easy for others.

Although research since 1999 offers mixed results, strong support exists for the supposition that most of us lack the capacity to assess our own competence and the probability of a poor estimate increases as our competence diminishes. In keeping with this concern, our clients asked us to assess the gap between self and group perception in their organizations. The combined results appear in Figure 1. The vertical axis captures the actual value of the competence based on peer and supervisor assessment, while the horizontal axis represents the difference between actual and perceived. As competence increases (moving from bottom to top of the graph), the difference decreases indicating that the more competent the employee, the more realistic the perception. Conversely, almost all those scoring in the lower third of competence over-estimate their abilities.  Although based on a small sample, the results mirror the findings of Dunning and Krueger.

What simple things can we conclude from these results that might help us on a day-to-day basis?
• Those that need development the most may not realize they need it.
• Managing performance is as much about educating as enabling.
• All capability levels of employees benefit from learning self-analysis.

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Going Together: Engagement and Performance

performanceMost accept that engagement provides a critical precursor to optimal productivity and performance in any organization. Today, most organizations not only monitor engagement, but also evaluate managers on the engagement of their workforce along with other performance-based outcomes. Yet, we all know that keeping employees engaged takes a considerable amount of time and effort on the part of managers and leaders. As leaders work through the practicality of ensuring high levels of engagement, a common concern arises related to how to balance engagement and discipline. Assuming that employees who possess higher levels of engagement do a better job completing their tasks, are less likely to make mistakes, and are more motivated to perform, what happens when the performance still falls short? Or, what happens to engagement when you need to discipline?
A 2013 study by Leadership IQ joined group performance and engagement data to assess the viability of the linkage. After examining the results for 207 companies, a startling result surfaced: in 42% of the companies, the most engaged employees produced the least. Similarly, in those same companies, the least engaged were providing the majority of the productivity. A closer examination revealed that the most common reason for disengagement among those performing well pertained to the absence of accountability in the form of communicating clear performance expectations, recognizing contribution, and addressing poor performance. Disengagement among high performers occurred from a lack of actual management, which created a dysfunctional environment. Those still performing simply ignored the dysfunction while those engaged, but not performing failed to understand their own shortcomings. It makes more sense when you think of those organizations where a small cadre of high performers complains that the rest of the employees do not even realize they are failing to perform.

So, how would these results assist us in answering our question of the interaction between engagement and discipline? In macro sense, discipline is key to ensuring higher levels of engagement if it is part of the overall effort to support accountability through communicating performance expectations and results. An organization that does not address performance shortcomings will erode overall engagement, especially among those performing. Although this makes sense at the macro level, when confronting an individual, the linkage works differently depending on the nature of the feedback. Except when with the most mature recipients and the best communicators, negative feedback creates distance between the employee and the supervisor or even the organization. This distance erodes engagement as the level of trust and affinity for the supervisor decreases.
Consequently, for engagement to remain at similar levels, other factors with greater weight in the calculus of engagement should be emphasized, concurrently. Research shows that two elements influence the level of engagement more than communication on performance: communication on strategy and direction as well as understanding of business goals for the team and organization. In the most simple sense, a supervisor might reinforce the importance of the person to the organization, reconnect the employee to the overall direction of the organization, and emphasize the critical nature of the associated tasks to reaching business objectives.

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Our Connectivity or Our Work

Figure 1: Average Use of Time, 2014

Figure 1: Average Use of Time, 2014

By now, most of us have been behind someone texting and weaving as they drive or had dinner while looking at the top of the other person’s head while they text and eat. For all of the benefits of technology and connectivity, it possesses a more challenging side as well.
A recent article about service in a famous New Year City restaurant does a good job illustrating the impact of our connectivity or linkages. The management noticed that most social media sites rated the restaurant poorly on service and this was a change from previous ratings of the restaurant. Specifically, the sites mentioned that the service was slow and the wait for a table was too long. Since the management could not identify anything that had changed with the quality of employees or the primary processes, they hired a company analyze the wait staff. Like any good consultant, the outside firm started with recommending more training and increasing the quality of the workforce.
In order to demonstrate the “change” in the workforce and the quality of service, the outside firm requested that the management review the internal video feed from the past as well as what its system collected more recently. The hope was that by comparing the footage from two different periods specific factors influencing the timeliness of service could be identified.

After comparing a busy day in 2004 to one in 2014, the results were shocking. A review of 2004 revealed the following:

  • Customer comes into the restaurant.
  • Customer spend on average eight minutes looking at the menu.
  • Waiter shows up almost instantly and takes the order.
  • Typical appetizers arrive within six minutes.
  • Two (2) out of 45 entries are sent back.
  • Waiters are responsive to tables.
  • After the check is delivered, most leave within five minutes.
  • Average time in the restaurant: 1:05
  • Customer comes into the restaurant.
  • Eighteen (18) out of 45 customers asked to be seated somewhere different from initial seat.
  • Before opening the menu, most are on their phones taking pictures or other activities.
  • Seven (7) out of 45 had the waiter come over right away for an average of five minutes to show them their phone or help with the WIFI.
  • When menus are opened, most place their phone above the menu and continue to type or surf.
  • Waiter checks with the table multiple times.
  • Average time from taking final seat to placing an order: 21 minutes.
  • Typical appetizers are delivered in six minutes.
  • Twenty-six (26) out of 45 customers spend an average of three minutes taking pictures of their food.
  • Fourteen (14) out of 45 customers take pictures of each other eating the food for an average of four minutes.
  • Nine (9) out of 45 customers sent their food back to be reheated.
  • Twenty-seven (27) out of 45 customers asked their waiter to take a group picture and in 14 cases they request is for multiple photos for an average of five minutes.
  • Eating takes 20 minutes longer than ten years ago due to stopping to be on your phone and 15 minutes longer for the bill o be paid.
  • Average time in the restaurant: 1:55.

It was no wonder that people felt service changed, the behavior of the customer had changed during the last ten years and that change added 55 minutes to the cycle of “turning a table.” Moreover, if this restaurant mirrors most there is also an increased use of phones by the wait staff as well. How many times have you looked around for the person waiting on your table to see them in a doorway on their phone?

As leaders in our own organizations, we face a similar challenge. Technology and connectivity has changed the workplace in some fundamental ways and is only going to increase in the future. For illustration purposes, let’s compare the results from one workplace in 2004 and 2014. Drawing on a recent productivity study of an insurance company’s employees and supervisors, the analysis looked at what employees spent their time doing. In 2004, employees spent about 56 percent of their time working on duties and tasks assigned. The biggest non-productive competitor for time was socializing with coworkers followed by participating in personal calls. The results for 2014 appear in Figure 1. While personal time took up about 43 percent of utilized time in 2004, it now represented closer to 64 percent of available time in 2014. The use of personal cell phones reached almost 25 percent of an employee’s time. Although it was not in large blocks or continuous use, it was a short, steady part of the day for staff. When employees were asked about the time spent on their personal phones, the most common response was “I had no idea.”

What do these results tell us?

  • As employers, we need to make sure we have clear policies and expectations on time usage at work.
  • There are increasingly levels of blending between the professional and personal, not only after hours, but during hours.
  • As the world changes, we have to as well.
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Future Leaders

futureEach year I have the privilege of attending a conference for future leaders that brings together young, “up and coming” employees from a variety of organizations. While they come to the meetings to increase their knowledge of different ideas and to build their professional networks, I find that I learn as much, if not more than they do. The interaction, conversation, and discussion not only demonstrate the brilliance of the next generation, but also illustrate their determination to have an impact in their organizations and the world.

A common topic at the most recent session pertained to the current wave of changing expectations. Quickly, the discussion ventured from expectations others place on us as employees to expectations we place on our leaders, society, institutions, co-workers, spouses, and children. As you might imagine, opinions on specific leaders varied, but a strong consensus developed around the idea that leaders possess a distribution similar to any other profession with the bulk falling in the proverbial, average category. What was a little more surprising was that most participants agreed that none of their examples of exceptional or “top” leaders possess the skills and abilities necessary to be as successful in the future.

So, what were the characteristics that the participants identified that they felt were critical for future leaders, but in short supply even among the best today?

Collaboration – Most agreed that leaders today fail to maximize collaboration within and across teams.
Continuous Learning – All agreed that the demand for increasing higher levels of productivity has resulted in cultures of working harder and not smarter by continual learning.
Technology Proficiency – Most noted that there is still a conceptual as well as practical technology proficiency gap at the highest levels of most organizations.
Talent Building – All expressed concerns that while the development of talent receives a lot of “lip service,” few leaders commit they time necessary to help others reach their full potential.
Cultural Understanding – Similar to talent building, most felt that diversity and cultural understanding appears in regular organizational communication and is espoused as a value, but it has not become integrated with behavior.
Social Conscious – A common concern related to the degree to which a social conscious impacted decision-making vis-à-vis a profit motive overriding all other considerations.
Change Acceptance – Most agreed that leaders today still fail to recognize that change is the new “normal” and we have to not only accept, but also learn to use it our advantage y building flexibility structures, rewarding adaptability, and embracing innovation.
Total Communicator – All participants cited communication skills with multiple levels as an issue.

As the discussion neared completion, most agreed that the final ingredient pertained to a real commitment to preparedness for the future.

As we consider their comments, we might all agree that being a leader may be the toughest job around.

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The Perfect Album, Employee, and Other Anomalies


Figure 1: Percent of Hires with Desired Skills

Figure 1: Percent of Hires with Desired Skills

For those of us that love music, a favorite album distinguishes itself by the number of loved songs beyond the one or two songs that become radio or video singles. If you think back, which albums did you play repeatedly in their entirety? Which albums define certain phases of your life? Think about those albums that you knew the next song before it played.

The albums that we consider truly exceptional stay with us since they provide a rare level of completeness, even perfection. Growing up, I remember that I would assume that an album contained songs just like the one or two that I heard and loved from the radio. After saving money for the purchase, my logic would be that if a band that could produce such an incredible single, it must possess many more just waiting on the album. Only after purchasing the album, I would realize that many times the good songs cohabitated with “filler” songs. On those rare occasions that that album proved me wrong, I was delighted.

When we hire, we face a dilemma similar to buying an album when all we have heard is a single or two. Candidates come to interviews with their best “singles” ready to go and make their “song” as close to our tastes as possible. As a result, we tend to “get our hopes up” regarding the candidate and all of their “songs” and assume that the candidate offers the complete package. Later, after the person joins our team, we realize that the “album” mixes great songs with some less desirable.

As an example, a 2014 survey by HCS found that among 400 responding organizations in a variety of industries only two and a half percent of hired candidates possessed all of the skills and traits desired by the employer (see Figure 1). In other words, not every song was a hit. Moreover, although all respondents utilized a formal hiring process, five percent indicated that the hired candidate possessed none of the desired traits and skills. The most frequent result falls at around 60 percent of the desired characteristics with 30 and 40 percent being close seconds. Assuming that the average organization in 2014 brought in candidates with between 30 and 60 percent of skills and traits desired, what does this mean for us as human resource professionals?


  • The economic downturn did not flood the market with highly qualified people to the extent one might suppose.
  • Temporary to permanent or flexible hiring methods should rise as well as other non-traditional employment arrangements.
  • Investment in training and development should grow as new resources enter an organization.
  • As the market improves, our talent management strategy will become a larger factor in strategic differentiation.



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Why We Allow Bad Bosses

angry_boss-home_lifeRegardless of the name on the building, we all work for a person: the boss. Considerable research points to the importance of the relationship between employees and their supervisor for engagement, productivity, and longevity and most of us would agree that the quality and nature of the boss plays a critical role in operational success. Nevertheless, most organizations talk a great game about the importance of having good bosses, but assume little can be done to consistently address the gap between employee needs and supervisor capabilities.
This is a big mistake. A leader who cannot motivate and engage employees successfully will produce less than optimal results. So, why do we allow the “wrong” behaviors and attitudes to continue?

Our Experience – Most of us develop into leaders with few positive role models. When you think back on your career, how many bosses took the time to ensure that you would be successful at your job and you own development goals? Moreover, like almost any other profession, most bosses perform at an average level. In other words, exceptional role models occur very rarely. Human nature lends itself to assuming if something was good enough for me; it should be good enough for you. In a variety of other areas of our professional life, that would be considered striving for the least common denominator.

Paying Dues – In some organizations, having dealt with an incapable as well as inhuman boss is a “rite of passage” for advancement. In meeting with leaders, a common part of most personal timelines includes at least one instance of having to deal with some especially awful boss along the way. The heart of the story being that overcoming that terrible boss somehow made the leader better for having suffered and survived. The most common conclusion being: “that experience really showed me the leader I wanted to be.” Although a variety of positive and negative experiences play an important role in defining who we are, it may not be fair to conclude that everything that happens is always for the best.

Excellence is Hard – The last reason combines elements of individual as well as organizational change. Change is hard at any level, especially if the bad boss produces some positive results. We talk about individual leadership styles and methods of interaction, but neither focuses on the key element of what we want from people as leaders: to help others produce the best possible outcome. A leader’s individual approach, behaviors, and actions need to align with the group that he or she leads, if he or she wants to maximize success. In the absence of that alignment, one is hammering a screw into a board. It will work eventually, but not near as efficiently and effectively as a screwdriver. If one only knows how to use a hammer, at what point is it worth learning how to use a screwdriver? The decision to learn the new skills requires a commitment and investment on the part of the individual as well as the organization

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Emotional Intelligence and Reading a Face

handsMost of us recognize that controlling our emotions plays a key role in being successful in the workplace. A person who lacks control diverts attention from productivity by creating disruptions or being too self-absorbed. Over the last decade, the growth of emotional intelligence literature refocused our attention to include looking inward as well as outward. In 1990, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer brought emotional intelligence to the mainstream. In their influential article “Emotional Intelligence,” they defined emotional intelligence as, “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (1990).

Their article defined four different factors of emotional intelligence:

  1. Perceiving Emotions: accurately perceiving emotions (body language and facial expressions).
  2. Reasoning with Emotions: using emotions to promote thinking and cognitive activity.
  3. Understanding Emotions: determining the reason and meaning of the emotion.
  4. Managing Emotions: responding appropriately to your emotions as well as others.

As one progressed from factor one to four, the level of sophistication and aptitude for emotional intelligence grew.

If you are curious about your current level of emotional intelligence, an increasingly popular method of assessment involves determining your ability to read people’s facial expressions. During human development, we learn how to assess emotions in non-verbal manners. Put simply, we can determine mood or intention through non-verbal clues like expression or body language. Paul Ekman focuses on the study of messaging through facial expression. His research confirmed that there are some universally consistent facial expressions:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Surprise
  • Fear
  • Enjoyment
  • Disgust
  • Contempt

His work has not only changed how we understand the universality of facial expression clues, but how we can predict future behaviors. A recent Fast Company article describes his work with predicting terrorism, detecting when someone is lying, and interrogating prisoners. (

If you would like to give it a try, here are two simple quizzes:


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Workplace Ready New Hires

As the economy continues to improve, most of us will consider adding new staff to either build on our current capacity or replace those that left during the economic downturn.  As we consider candidates, a key decision relates to the role of experience in the new positions.  For some, relevant experience may be less important, while others may consider experience a primary predictor of future success.   With the number of talented, new graduates that are looking for work, it is likely most of us will consider, if not select, someone without a lot of work experience.  As we all know, results of that decision tend to vary.

According to Aberdeen’s recent research on new hires (HCM Trends 2014: Developing a Critical Eye for Talent), only ten percent of organizations believe that “college hires are ready to contribute to business-driven initiatives as quickly as other new hired.”  Although one might assume that specialized job skills create this gap, the results point to basic work skills as well.  Some of the biggest gaps occurred with critical thinking skills (53 percent), general business skills (45 percent), and personal leadership ability (27 percent).  Moreover, sixty-eight (68) percent of respondents feel that the market does not possess the level of talent needed.

What does this mean?  It means that when we hire, we may not be hiring “job ready” candidates.  The ideal would be that new hires would quickly come “up to speed” on the culture and processes in our organization and begin to contribute in a short period.  When basic, yet necessary skills are not present, a larger investment is needed, as well as more time must be expended before anticipated productivity can be reached.  A simple comparison of the difference appears in figure below.  A recent survey by HCS of a large financial employer illustrates the differential depending on the level of experience.


Time to Skill Attainment (Months)

No Experience

Basic Skills


Job Specific Skills


Past Experience

Basic Skills


Job Specific Skills


As illustrated in the Figure 1 results, experience significantly reduces the time needed to be able to demonstrate skill attainment or competence.  An employee with experience reaches competence with basic skills in less than half the time of those without experience.  Moreover, when considering job specific skills, it only takes one third of the time to reach competence in job specific skills.

What does this tell us? Experience does matter. 

As you look to hire talented, new graduates, look closely at their work experience and internship participation. 

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Building a Leadership Development Program, Part 3

The last two elements of a successful leadership development program pertain to measurement and assessing impact or results. All initiatives, regardless of nature should be assessed for their level of success and associated return on investment. Although most organizations recognize the importance of assessing satisfaction with the training experience, less measure the tangible impact training. The “real value” of training arises from changes in behaviors and outcomes in the workplace. Put simply, if an employee attends training, there should be a multiplier effect to the value of that knowledge. For leaders, this multipler should be greater than other employee categories since a leader influences more processes, resources, and outcomes.

Element 6: Recognized measures of success
Measurement is critical to gauging as well as enhancing the success any leadership development program. Although some variation exists in measurement, the standard for most successful leadership programs originates with the work of Collins and Holton. Their 2004 article in Human Resource Development Quarterly, entitled, “The Effectiveness of Managerial Leadership Development Programs: A meta-analysis of studies from 1982 to 2001” summarizes seven core categories of outcome measurement (see Figure 1).


Figure 1

Collins and Holton Leadership Development Program Measures

 ld measures

 (Source: Collins and Holton, 2004, p.225)

Among the most successful programs, multiple assessment methods coupled with multiple measurement points provides the basis for quantifying value and identifying areas for adjustment or improvement. The most common measurement methods among exceptional programs appear in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Most Common Measurement Methods in Successful Leadership Programs

 ld measures2


As a specific example, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) utilizes sustained participant satisfaction, increase in self-awareness, relevance of learning objectives, achievement of learning objectives, and positive impact on behavior to measure success of its participants. Similarly, British Petroleum (BP) links its program to outcomes by employing multi-source surveys to assess organizational awareness, interpersonal skills, communication skills, self-awareness, general management skills, leadership skills, and team performance. Based on the feedback received, BP compares the results to predetermined expectations for the level of the leader and degree of progress.

Element 7: Interactive evaluation methodology
In order to ensure that the leadership pipeline continues to “flow” over time, an organization must monitor and adjust its actions and efforts. Successful programs possess explicit plans for monitoring and updating their programs as work, environmental factors, and team members change. Furthermore, a successful program constantly observes how many team members reside at each competency level and adjust, accordingly. It is not enough to know if you are making new leaders; an organization needs to know the composition, performance, and potential of each team member.

What does this mean?
Strong leaders rarely grow in an organic fashion in our organizations. If we are serious about improving how we deliver services, treat our most important resource, and manage resources, then we must invest in building better leaders. The last few posts captured the most critical elements of a successful leadership development program. The list is not exhaustive, but should provide a foundation for examining the their current or future practices.


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