Although I had been aware of the general themes and trends developing from the assessments I was doing, I decided to consolidate all the data from the assessments into a research report only in October 2011. After completion, I presented this report to the rest of our executives and those consultants involved in leadership and development. This was not an easy presentation, and generated heated debate among those of us who work on the consulting side of the business. The debate was centred around a conflict between those who believe that there is “a skills crisis” in the conventional sense, resulting from technical skills deficiencies, and those of us who had shifted our paradigms into a new debate, that is, that there is a much greater crisis in the loss of applied skills resulting from organisational dynamics, relationship conflict and other systemic issues, as opposed to “simply” technical skills.
This is a healthy and necessary debate, but it raised questions about how we as a consultancy move forward to add value to our clients, and this has major business implications.
Put simply, as interesting as the findings are, they are also inconvenient. They are inconvenient because it means that, in order for us to have a serious impact on individual and organisational performance, we have to re-conceptualise, re-design and re-package our leadership and development interventions, as well as our organisational change strategies.
But the results outlined in this article will also prove to be inconvenient for organisations in general, as it means there is more complexity to the skills crisis than just a poor education system, economic factors, and deficient employees. To resolve this crisis will therefore require organisations to be introspective, to understand the organisational politics and dynamics that are difficult to quantify and are often seen to be “politically sensitive”. It will require honest conversations, and proper assessment of the “real needs”. Human Resources executives will require new and more dynamic strategies to confront and eliminate systemic barriers to skills usage as well as continued skills development. To do this they will need to work far more closely with line and operations functions, which is a problem, because over the years HR departments have increasingly been perceived by operations as providing little or no real value in terms of increasing performance and contributing to the bottom line.
We estimate that conservatively speaking the losses faced by companies resulting from issues highlighted in this article are roughly 20% of operating costs or lost sales opportunities. But to reclaim these financial losses will take more than tightly-packaged and well-facilitated empowerment programmes, feel-good motivational training, values workshops, and the like. I have worked with MDP graduates whose managers make no distinction between them and those who have not attended the programme in terms of their “skills deficits”, and they describe exactly the same barriers to applying their skills as everyone else. The solution lies not in how many skills training and leadership development training boxes are ticked, but rather in teaching people to operate effectively within the organisational systemic barriers and to step into the inter-level relationship dynamics playing out at different levels. »