Creating a Top-Performing Team: Leadership Development for Tomorrow’s Corporations

Marcus Buckingham is founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, creator of the StandOutM tool, and the author of seven bestselling books, including his latest book “StandOut”. He is an expert in strengths-based leadership.

Corporate America is in crisis. Consumer confidence is plummeting. Leaders are failing. In fact, more than 40 percent of new leaders fail within their first 18 months. Many companies, however, are also failing their leaders as they continue to invest in a broken leadership development model.

Billions of dollars are spent annually on leadership development programs – $171.5 billion by U.S. businesses in 2010, the most recent year for which data is available, according to the American Society for Training and Development. That’s an average of $1,228 per employee, but virtually all of this investment is spent on the same formulaic training model and black-and-white metrics. With their focus almost exclusively on classroom learning and lockstep generic curriculums, these dinosaurs of training simply don’t have what it takes to develop the next generation of leaders, managers and employees.

Globalization means the entire world is a competitor. The fast pace of technological change decrees organizations must keep innovating and learning, or they will die. These are not radical insights — but their effect is both radical and disruptive. Almost by definition, innovation is unique, particular and localized. Yet, a company must learn to scale innovation in order to thrive.

How can innovation be spread within your organization? The key is a new leadership development model. One that is scalable, but accommodates the uniqueness of each leader’s techniques; one that is stable enough to permit the training of hundreds at once, but dynamic enough to incorporate and distribute new practices and other innovations in real time. Is it possible? Yes.

Today’s Leadership Development: Google It

Steve Jobs rejected focus groups because he believed “people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” In contrast, other leaders rely on input from the regular world. Sam Walton of Walmart, for example, used to visit his stores every Friday to see what customers were doing and what they wanted. He called it quick market intelligence. The takeaway? A technique that works for one person does not necessarily work for another.

It’s simple enough: people’s approach to work is as diverse as people themselves. We all know this. It’s the most cutting-edge companies that are embracing this diversity in the way they interact with their customers.

Google, for example, is formalizing and intensifying learning in a completely new way with GoogleEDU, its two-year-old, in-house leadership development and education program. While classroom-based, the sessions center on topics such as exerting influence in a company that prioritizes ideas over titles. The goal is targeted learning, from which its employees can identify more actionable goals. It’s individualized and customized.


Not all formalized leadership development takes place in classes. Facebook, Netflix and Amazon filter countless content options to fit individual tastes – and then deliver them via technology in real time. Service-focused hospitality giant Hilton takes a similar approach. Over the last several years, Hilton executive Phil Cordell has worked to embed and apply an algorithmic model of leadership development, propelling personalized learning throughout his organization.

Cordell and his team started by administering a situational judgment test — StandOut — to a select group from among the top 10 percent of Hilton’s general managers. Analysis of the results helped Cordell and his team learn about individual leadership techniques that fueled their success.

The techniques are as diverse as the leaders themselves. One uses a mascot to symbolize best practice behavior and attitudes among staff; another rewards employees with a bimonthly “paycheck lunch” during which she encourages team members to share stories and details of what they appreciate about one another. These techniques work spectacularly well for them — even though the same techniques wouldn’t work nearly as well for managers with different strengths. There are, however, some managers who could benefit from using some of these techniques, or who might be inspired to create another variation.

This is where the StandOut algorithm comes in: helping to target techniques to the right people. For Cordell and Hilton, the specially designed algorithm draws on a constantly growing database of concepts, innovations and practices associated with specific leadership styles, and pushes them out to managers of the same leadership style as a series of techniques they might try.

A cloud-based mobile application helps reinforce the knowledge and sustain learning throughout Hilton’s Hampton brand of 1,850 hotels. Twice a week, the tool delivers new techniques and tips from top performing general managers and other leaders.

To be effective, the leadership advice must be:

· Short – because the brain is built to pay more attention to short, frequent stimuli;

· Personalized – the algorithm ensures that most techniques a user receives come from leaders whose strengths match his, but occasionally the app delivers techniques from different strengths, adding an element of surprise;

· Interactive – with the option to “bank” select techniques, the managers can build their own vault of knowledge for later reference and use, adding detail to their leadership profiles.

The algorithmic approach to leadership development capitalizes on individual strengths and crowd-sourced advice available anywhere, anytime. And for a new generation of leaders raised on Google search-style personalization, it’s more critical than ever for organizations to up their ante and invest in development that is ongoing, always available, and geared to the strengths of each leader.

Marcus Buckingham is founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, creator of the StandOutM tool, and the author of seven bestselling books, including his latest book “StandOut”. He is an expert in strengths-based leadership.


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