“One Size Doesn’t Fit All,” a recent global survey of more than 300 C-level executives conducted by the Forum Corp., found most growth initiatives succeed or fail at the business-unit level. These particular leaders have the biggest impact on an organization’s day-to-day activities, yet they are not often the recipients of targeted leadership learning opportunities.
The survey identified three different types of organizational growth: mergers and acquisitions, organic growth and growth through strategic alliance. Regardless of growth type or who made the decision to pursue a growth-related strategy, it often falls to business unit leaders to put the details together and make them work.
Thus, to increase success rates, this population ideally should receive specialized leadership development programs created with an organization’s growth strategy in mind.
“CLOs really need to understand that organizational growth (which is still one of the key priorities CEOs say is a challenge for them) is achieved through different means,” said Ronan Knox, Forum Corp. executive vice president. “If you aren’t developing your people to take into account the differences between what you need to do to drive organic growth versus strategic alliances versus mergers and acquisitions, you’re probably not developing the talent as acutely as you need to for success.”
Knox said the context in which an organization drives growth varies according to strategy. For example, an organization driving organic growth has different needs and considerations than one driving growth through mergers and acquisitions. Thus, the skills leaders need also are different.
“The first thing CLOs should be thinking about is, ‘Am I really looking through the lens of growth at the plans I’ve got for developing people? Am I actually reflecting the different challenges of different growth strategies in the competency frameworks that I’m developing internally?’ The answer is probably no. What they have are a series of general leadership capabilities but not necessarily the sort of understanding of what’s different about leadership in different contexts.”
To clarify which skills are needed and what learning will provide them, CLOs should identify the key practices that differ among effective leaders in different growth strategy situations.
“For example, in mergers and acquisitions, one of the critical things is being able to bridge differences in style, in values, in processes and in cultures between the two organizations being put together,” Knox explained. “As a result, the second key characteristic in mergers and acquisitions is being highly adaptable and being able to deal with ambiguity because you always find surprises in a merger. They’re typically put together for financial reasons, but the reality is it works if you really address the people issues. That’s true with mergers and acquisitions and less true in organic growth, where you have an existing culture and set of values, so you don’t have to have the same emphasis on pulling things together.”
Knox said if all CLOs do is put together a general leadership development program, they likely are not providing learning that will give people the acute understanding required to successfully manage different growth-related situations. Instead, he recommends learning leaders assess their current talent through what he calls “the lens of growth.”
“Do you really understand what kind of DNA you already have in those business unit leaders so that when you start looking at new growth scenarios, you know where you’re starting from?” he said. “Apply this lens of growth to all that you do and think about the different job and action learning experiences you can give people as they develop in your organization to provide them with practical experiences from growth scenarios.”
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