Double take: to get more leaders ready now, don’t focus on learning

Great leaders, ready now. It’s what every business needs. And what most are unable to achieve. The evidence is clear — across the globe investments in leadership have been steadily rising (well over 10 percent annually for more than a decade), while leadership readiness is trending backward. If you’re skeptical, check out DDI’s 2015 Leadership Forecast.

Something is clearly amiss, but what? One thing is sure: It’s not a lack of tools, technology, or process.

The truth is that we (the learning and talent management disciplines) know a great deal about how to help people learn. And we’ve become quite good at developing learning content that is relevant to business challenges. We’ve got the content and tool thing down pretty well.

The problem is that the learning methods we’ve honed for decades don’t move fast enough. Organizations need more leaders, and they need them to be ready sooner, with less experience. We have to rethink.

How can we accelerate learning and growth to keep up with the speed of change? The answer isn’t to cram more learning into the already overwhelmed lives and minds of emerging leaders. There’s a different solution.

Don’t learn, grow

What if I said that learning doesn’t matter? Or that training doesn’t do anything important? Crazy? Some might say so. But when it comes to accelerating leadership readiness, both of those statements are actually true — at least partly. Here’s why…

There’s a critical difference between learning and growth. Learning happens when you acquire new knowledge or skill, and growth happens when you use it — consistently. So yes, learning is critically important, but guess what: On average, 20 minutes after a formal learning event, 40 percent of the content is forgotten. By the end of the week, 75 percent is gone. Learning happens all the time, but growth — not so much.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Growth happens when leaders integrate what they learn into how they lead. Training or coaching or any other formal learning only matters when leaders take what they have learned and use it to address the challenges they are facing in the workplace.

So if your goal is to generate more leaders ready now, it’s dangerous to settle for learning. The only satisfactory outcome is growth.

New brand of energy

Some companies have found great success in generating a new brand of energy that sparks growth in their organizations. How do they do it?

  • By changing the way they keep score. They use different metrics for senior management and for learners so that the goals don’t focus on learning. They focus on growth.
  • By taking bigger risks. They create more powerful developmental assignments that stretch leaders into just the right experiences, at just the right times.
  • By personalizing learning pathways that lead to mastery more quickly.
  • By helping leaders embrace their unique personalities and avoid the negative patterns that some characteristics cause.
  • And they do all this, not just one leader at a time but for entire cadres of leaders who learn, and grow, together — sparking tremendous energy and excitement for everyone involved. And that leads to rapid, widespread growth.


Most of us know that it’s one thing to show up at the gym to exercise, and another thing to turn that single workout into a routine that becomes part of a lifestyle. Accelerating leadership growth works like that.

You may have found in your own work in growing leaders that simply installing one system component (like a talent review or an assessment system) can be a great deal of effort all by itself. So how is it that some organizations are managing to not only install solid system components, but sustain them, and make the growth of leadership a permanent aspect of how they operate?

The secret, once again, is energy. Remember, rapid learning generates energy — excitement and some fear — and you can manufacture it in your organization.

Keeping the fire of growth and development burning bright requires a combination of tactics and mindset. You might need to adjust your metrics of accelerated growth, but you also might need to confront your organization’s beliefs about what it means to be “ready.”

The truth is, no one can ever be totally ready for the complex world we live in. So the only viable way to respond is to always be preparing.

Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is vice president of Succession and C-Suite Services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt’s work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more. His co-authored book Leaders Ready Now was released in June and is available at

Five ways to get serious about workplace diversity

To be competitive, companies can no longer afford to view workplace diversity as a soft issue and miss out on the female talent pool, — not when highly educated young women are entering the workforce in equal, if not greater, numbers than young men and certainly not when research has consistently shown the clear correlation between female leadership and positive business outcomes.

With that in mind, here are five ways to get serious about workplace diversity right now. Today.

  1. Hire Better
    Getting serious about workplace diversity starts with the hiring process. That’s not to say it’s sound practice to hand down a directive to hire more women — you should always hire the best candidate for the job and your organization.The work real work begins before the interview. Companies doing this right are able to build a pipeline of female talent by cultivating relationships between the organization and women’s schools and professional networks. They’re not afraid to say they’re investing in diversity initiatives, or to proactively state their intentions to hire, develop and promote women in their workforce.When you can set the tone for an inclusive culture in the hiring process, it can help improve the organization’s reputation and attract top-level female talent.
  2. Train Staff
    An important next step is how your organization approaches diversity from a talent management perspective. Train staff to be aware of and avoid biases that can penalize female employees.For example, the approach to hiring, evaluating and promoting employees should be about performance, capability and equal opportunity. A mandate to promote a percentage of female employees is a Band-Aid. Training your staff to combat biases and implement fair practices is a more effective solution for the long-term.
  3. Salary Audit
    You can’t talk about diversity and equality without talking about compensation. The wage gap between men and women is well-publicized, but there’s no good excuse for permitting a gulf to exist when you have the ability to close the gender wage gap.There have been some extreme examples of addressing this recently, such as the move to ban negotiation during recruiting and hiring. Another effective approach would be to conduct a thorough salary audit across the board at your organization, and then you can begin to take steps to ensure that every woman should earn equal pay for equal work as their male colleagues.
  4. Family Care Benefits
    A key to improving gender diversity throughout your organization, including building a pipeline of female leadership, is promoting a culture that supports working mothers. Leading employers are investing in programs like paid leave, flexibility and family care benefits as a way to make it easier for working moms — and all caregivers — to manage their career and family responsibilities.A strong recent example of this was earlier this year at Davos and HeForShe’s first gender parity report when Twitter COO Adam Bain outlined the company’s steps to improve gender equality, including paid parental leave, roundtables for new moms (and dads), investments in nursing rooms (and education for nursing moms) and partnering with [email protected] to provide family care benefits for employees.
  5. Commit to It
    Not to be overlooked is the importance of holding yourself accountable for improving gender diversity at your workplace. Don’t be afraid to put a stake in the ground and commit to something, like HeForShe or becoming a LeanIn company.

    For example, when joined IFC’s SheWorks global partnership and became a LeanIn company, the leadership has seen those commitments as a measure of accountability. When we’re publicly committing to implementing specific programs and reporting back on the result, it really holds us to carrying out those actions and modeling positive behavior.

Michael Marty is senior vice president and general manager at [email protected] .

J.J. Rodeheffer and partners found that correctly training newbies pays off for Zipline Logistics

J.J. Rodeheffer, partner, Zipline Logistics LLC

J.J. Rodeheffer, partner, Zipline Logistics LLC

J.J. Rodeheffer says in all honesty, it is not that difficult to be a great company. All you have to think about is how you want to be treated. As part of any interaction that you would have, treat people the same way and you can build an excellent company.

You might find it difficult to argue with that since the third-party logistics company, Zipline Logistics LLC, has doubled its revenue each year over the past five years and topped revenue of $10 million in 2011. It employs 17 people.
Rodeheffer and his two partners claim their success formula is simple: focus on doing what’s right; treat your clients and customers fairly and honestly; pay your carriers on time; and value long-term business relationships over one-time business transactions.
Smart Business talked with Rodeheffer, partner at Zipline, about building a great company.

Q. With company growth comes the challenge of disseminating information and market knowledge down to the next new level of employees. What do you see as a key factor in doing that successfully?

A. Training has been something that we have taken great pride in. I don’t necessarily know if we ever had the thought when we first opened Zipline that training would be one of our biggest strengths. But we realized early that we’ve got to pass along not only the information but the drive and the motivation, and to do that you simply just can’t expect a person to pick that up.
You want hard workers, and you interview for the type of person that you want — a competitive hard-working, multitasker — but in the end, the person still has to have knowledge. In the last two years, we really have spent a significant amount of time building a training program. When we did our first training guide we thought we were way ahead of the curve. We had an 80-page booklet and about four to five weeks of classroom training. For this next class, our fourth group of trainees coming in, 80 pages have turned into a few hundred and the topics have continued to grow.

Q. Once they are trained for the job, what are the keys to keeping people motivated?

A. First, once training is up, that’s not it. You have to strive really hard to further the education, whether that be logistically, and learning about your industry or what’s going on out there but also within the local community from networking, to knowing the businesses that are around here, whether that be potential suppliers, learning more about your competition and what they are up to. Keeping the eye kind of straight ahead and knowing what’s out there in front of you — I think has been important.
Moreover, charity group work is vital — not just a simple donation but some actual participation. That just kind of creates the awareness of where the company is now, where you are going, and I think that creates a positive attitude that comes into the day-to-day job as much as it does to the outside of the office.

Q. What are some of the keys to developing customer relationships that last?

A. I think too many companies get focused on small decisions and short-term thinking, and that leads to thinking about short-term profits. That gets in the way of developing long-term, long-standing relationships. You want to be here in the same role in five years, and 10 years, not how you are going to make your next quick buck. You have to really solidify in your customers’ minds that you have their best thoughts in mind. That could be, ‘Hey you know what? I know I quoted you $1,700 on this, but I’m only going to charge you $1,600. I found a cheaper truck, I’m still making a fair rate and I just wanted to let you know that I have your best interests in mind.’ Things like that just go a long way.

How to reach: Zipline Logistics LLC, (888) 469-4754 or