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Holcim cements behaviour metrics into leadership development scheme

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2nd Sep 2011
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Evidence suggests that HR-sponsored leadership development programmes that are deemed to be high quality are 20 times more likely to measure performance than those rated as ineffective.

Despite this, however, only 5% of organisations are able to provide meaningful metrics that effectively demonstrate a correlation between HR and business performance.    But if HR is to make a true difference, it really has to know how to make that difference - and demonstrate it to the rest of the world. It also has to focus on the impact that any activity will have on overall business objectives. The aim here is to build a solid bridge that links people issues with business outcomes.   One company that has done just that is international construction materials manufacturer, Holcim. The company employs more than 80,000 people in approximately 70 production sites, located on every continent around the world. Its product line includes cement and aggregates as well as ready-mix concrete and asphalt and it has experienced rapid growth through acquisition.   But the firm believes that a strategy of maintaining a local focus while enforcing global standards has been essential to this growth. As a result, it gives managers the scope to grow their local markets, while ensuring that each business is fully integrated into the organisation’s global network.    In order to ensure that its executives had the necessary skills in place to do this successfully, however, Holcim hired management consultancy Development Dimensions International to design a global leadership development programme entitled ‘Leading for Accelerated Performance and Growth’.  LEAPing forward  One of the criteria for the LEAP programme was that it be suitable for a wide variety of personnel based in all regions of the world. These ranged from plant operation and general managers to marketing, sales and distribution executives.   The scheme, which was delivered to 775 junior and senior managers across 21 territories, comprised five training modules covering essential leadership skills, goal-setting, coaching and performance management.   Some 1,049 observers, which ranged from peers and direct reports to bosses, also participated in order to undertake before-and-after comparisons and provide objective feedback on how effectively the trainees translated their learning into practice.    In order to build in robust metrics from the start of the programme, however, Holcim asked each individual to identify their learning objectives in advance, before ensuring that they aligned with corporate goals.    When undertaking each module, participants were again asked to identify their learning objectives and at least three behavioural indicators were selected as a means of demonstrating that these objectives were being met.    After approximately three-to-12 months, feedback was sought via an online survey. Both the course participants and observers were asked to evaluate how effectively the learning had been applied, how frequently any new behavior was exhibited and what difference it had made to organisational outcomes. Before-and-after comparisons were also made.  Measuring success  Adherence to each of the behavioural indicators was considered to be a critical mark of the success of the scheme, which meant that the focus of the evaluation was on how many leaders displayed each kind of behaviour ‘often’ or ‘almost always’.   After undertaking the course, 67% more Holcim managers – and critically, their observers as well - believed that they were acting as consistently effective leaders, an increase of 44% overall.   There were also significant improvements in leaders’ interpersonal skills, which included the ability to listen, empathise, provide support without removing responsibility and to boost the self-esteem of their direct reports.   One participant said: “The communication and management skills I learned during the LEAP programme are being used almost every day in communications with my colleagues, and especially when I’m coordinating with other departments in my company to collect information and produce final documents and reports.”   The regions that showed the biggest performance improvement were Asia and Latin America and, interestingly, they also experienced concomitant improvements in employee productivity, operational efficiency, employee engagement and teamwork following the implementation of the scheme as well.   Although a relatively new area for Holcim, one of the most beneficial parts of the programme related to coaching, however. The aim here was for leaders to provide their workers with the necessary feedback and ongoing support to improve performance by helping them positively achieve their goals.  Better behaviour  Managers found that providing specific, balanced feedback to employees if their performance fell short was a particularly helpful activity. But observers also noticed that leaders’ own ability to provide objective feedback and support in overcoming performance problems improved significantly over time too.   The secret, they discovered, was to clearly establish what it was direct reports needed to do to perform effectively and work with them to determine how they might do so – and commit to doing so.   After taking part in the course, some 73% of leaders believed that they saw an improvement in their own behavior in this area, not least because they became more enthusiastic about working with their staff to help them hit goals.   One said: “I took control of a situation where a subordinate was vacillating in his goals and brought him back to the right track by evaluating his performance mid-term and showing him the digressions.”   In the end, however, more than half of participants said that they had noticed positive changes in their behaviour at work which had, in turn, led to a productivity boost. Interestingly, an even higher percentage of observers said that the changes had boosted their own loyalty and willingness to remain at the company, leading to a positive knock-on effect all round.

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