Study Reveals Gap Between Need to Drive Strategic Change and Leaders’ Ability to Deliver It

Career Climbers / 8th February 2016

Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry global study of over 7,500 executives shows they would discard half of their current leadership development approach.

Just 17 per cent of business executives are fully confident their business has the right leaders in place to execute their strategy, according to a comprehensive global study by Korn Ferry, the global leadership consultancy. Korn Ferry’s Real World Leadership study of more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries found that executives’ top leadership development priority is developing leaders who can drive strategic change.

8. CAREERHowever, there was a lack of confidence in business leaders’ ability to drive this change – just over half of the respondents (56 per cent) were only “somewhat confident”.  Sixteen per cent did not believe their teams had the necessary leadership capabilities and a further 11 per cent were unsure.

“If I were a CEO, being only ‘somewhat confident’ that I had the right leaders in place to drive my company’s strategy wouldn’t be good enough,” said Steve Newhall, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting Practice, EMEA. “That’s why 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.”

The study found a significant lack of executive satisfaction with the leadership development programmes in existence in their organisations. Respondents said that if they could, they would discard nearly half (48 per cent) of their leadership development approach. Over half (55 per cent) judged the return on investment on their leadership development programmes to be only fair, poor or very poor.

Steve Newhall explained: “Executives we talked to said that if they could start over again they would throw out half their current leadership development strategies. To me this illustrates that while the business agenda has moved on, the development agenda has remained static.

“The ability to drive strategic change was one of the biggest skills gaps that the survey uncovered, which is not surprising given the pace of change and transformation organisations are trying to deal with. Yet executives reported that they buy in those skills from the outside more than half the time. That’s just too high and it indicates that there’s an issue with their ability to develop those skills internally. Going externally to bridge key skill and experience gaps and to bring fresh perspective 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 these areas. Going outside for talent because you want to is very different to doing it because you feel you have to.” 

The study also found that executives may be their own biggest barrier to achieving leadership development success. Respondents cited a lack of executive sponsorship as the largest barrier to successful implementation of leadership development programmes.

Steve Newhall continued: “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.”

The survey also found that below the senior executive level, there is a significant lack of engagement in driving strategic change. Nearly half (46 per cent) of mid-level leaders are not active in driving change.

Steve Newhall continued: “Connection to the organisation’s mission is getting lost at various levels of the workforce. 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.”

About the Study

Korn Ferry commissioned a comprehensive, global survey of views on leadership development in July and August of 2015. The survey generated more than 7,500 responses from 107 countries.

The breakdown of the respondents is as follows:

  • C-suite (26 per cent)
  • VP/SVP/EVP (31 per cent)
  • Director (27 per cent)
  • Other (16 per cent)

About Korn Ferry

For nearly half a century, clients have trusted Korn Ferry to recruit world class leaders. The firm currently operates in 78 offices in 37 countries and has approximately 3,900 colleagues.

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