A guide to delivering strategic change

Written by
Steve Newhall

25 Jan 2016

25 Jan 2016 • by Steve Newhall

Can you lead new strategies?

In a recent Korn Ferry survey, just 17% of business leaders were fully confident their business has the right leaders in place to execute its strategy, while 56% were only ‘somewhat confident’. As a CEO, if executives in my company were only ‘somewhat confident’ that my organisation had the right leaders in place to drive our strategic business priorities I wouldn’t be happy. It suggests that there are far too many business leaders who are lacking in this respect.

Indeed, the ability to drive strategic change is one of the biggest skills gaps that the report uncovered, which is not surprising given the pace of change and transformation organisations are trying to deal with. Yet all too often companies resort to trying to buy skills in from the outside – more than half the time, according to our survey. Of course, looking externally to bridge key skill and experience gaps and to bring fresh perspectives is a critical part of an organisation’s talent strategy, but companies need to get the balance right between their build and their buy strategy in those areas. Going outside for talent because you want to is very different to doing it because you feel you have to.

Why leadership development programmes are often found lacking

Executives we talked to said if they could start over again they would throw out half their current leadership development strategies, and over half of executives judged the return on investment from their leadership development programmes as just fair, poor or very poor. This indicates that while their business agenda has moved on, their development agenda has remained static.

Why is this the case? In many cases senior executives may be their own biggest barrier to achieving achieving leadership development success. Respondents cited a lack of executive sponsorship as the largest barrier to successful implementation of leadership development programmes.

How can CEOs and senior executives improve the abilities of their leadership team?

Effective leadership development is critical to the success of any organisation and yet it is so often neglected as a means of driving strategy change. Leadership development has to have senior stakeholder involvement – not just sponsorship but actual involvement. Crucially, it also has to have measurement and follow through to ensure that the desired changes, both in terms of the development of an organisation’s leaders and the business challenges they are responsible for tackling, are successfully delivered.

First and foremost, those at the senior executive level need to be confident in their business strategy. Secondly, they need to be confident in the ability of the leadership team delivering that strategy. Yet our recent report suggests that this is not the case – just 46 per cent of mid-level leaders are not active in driving change.

Connection to the organisation’s mission seems therefore to be getting lost at various levels of the workforce, yet without organisation-wide engagement, strategic change initiatives will not fully succeed. Senior leaders need to understand how to engage the whole business and ensure everyone within it understands what they are trying to achieve.