The Elephant in the HR Room

As some of you already know, I am in the process of conducting research with my colleague Adrian Hales, collecting confidential insights about people development processes within different organisations.

 We got a lot of attention from other L&D and HR professionals about our research, as well as some interesting questions and controversial discussions. In addition to curiosity about the research conclusions, people are also interested in what are we trying to achieve with our questionnaire, and why we are doing it.

 The main objective of our research is to bring some attention to the big, wild elephants that freely roam the fields of HR and L&D, and to encourage some honest and open conversations about common, yet unspoken issues in leadership development.

All of this started just with a casual conversation over a drink one Friday evening, where Adrian and I had a hearty conversation about some common frustrations we face in our day-to-day leadership consulting work. And those were some conclusions we came up with:

1. People are scared to give feedback upwards and honestly challenge the realities of the organisation, resulting in some underlying issues not being addressed.

2. The higher you progress within the organisation – the less development and learning you receive, as if support is not needed past a certain level of expertise.

3. As a result, this creates a huge gap between the perceived developmental needs and reality of the organisation, making development programmes inefficient, or short-lasting.

Why is it a problem?

Because we see that often organisations are not able to address their own blind spots. We feel there is a big misalignment between overall business objectives and people development strategy.

And why is it our problem? Because we want to make a difference with what we do, yet if organisations are not willing to address real issues and get involved in creating their own effective internal talent development infrastructure, our work will not last beyond the classroom. What we often find, is that clients believe their organisation needs training in X, Y, and Z, yet once we start digging and doing our own research about what company really needs, we often figure out that what’s in fact needed, is A, B, and C. It is important to have an external point of view and address development needs at every level of the organisation, not just an entry point to the new role.

We often find, that senior executives shaping the future of the organsiation, as well as those who are responsible for coaching, development and training of their leadership teams, are often not given development opportunities themselves!

It is a good practice to complete thorough organisational diagnostics on regular bases, as well as 360’ feedback questionnaires to have an honest reality check. It is best if this assessment is run by an external, impartial provider, and not by someone working within the organisation, so that people have a chance, to be honest and open without the fear of judgement. This will help to strengthen the culture of the organisation and will make people feel valued and heard.

External consultants themselves will be able to make more objective conclusions and have deep, meaningful conversations to help facilitate positive change.

The other benefit of an external consultant is that we have tools and techniques that are not limited to ‘this is the way we do things here’ and can bring a fresh insight about the best practices shared across different industries, not just within your sector, or let alone – organisation. How often do you receive insights about your competitors, so you can benchmark the strengths of your internal strategy, organisational ways of working, the health of communication channels, happiness of the team who report to you?

Leaders will struggle to make long-term impact if organisations don’t invest in their ongoing development. Those who are required to teach others, also have their own blind spots, and it is important that opportunities are provided to address it, as well as nourishing their best strenghts. Awareness, honesty and transparency is the key in all stages of development, and there is no clear line of expertise that would remove the need for feedback, support and ongoing development.

In the last year alone, Adrian and I have spent nearly 17k in combined costs on our own development, coaching, training and mentoring. And being curious and forever hungry to learn, we decided to further investigate some realities in the world of learning and gather more feedback that could help us, and other development professionals, to make a real lasting difference.

Our research aims to better understand the learning and development realities of different levels of management and executive roles, so we have some data about how development changes as leaders progress to the top, and to check if there are any development and support left at all, once you finally get there.

Our numbers are still not big enough to represent the full picture, but this is what we found so far…

When was the last time you have received valuable developmental feedback?

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Do you have regular learning and development opportunities that help you progress?

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Does your company have an effective leadership development strategy, and relevant leadership competency framework?

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Do you have access to professional 1-2-1 coaching?

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I am not sure if our comments and interpretation of those results are needed at this stage – make your own conclusions.

Probably as you read this, you think of other issues and struggles you face with people development within your organisation that we are not aware of. If you would like to share your insights with us, the link to complete the research questionnaire is here. Your honest and open feedback will help to make the real difference and improve the landscape of learning and development within organisations.

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