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By Workforce

In an unpredictable economy, companies that have a network of leaders throughout the organization are the ones most likely to thrive. Employees who are given the opportunity to develop leadership skills are more inclined to take responsibility and feel pride in their work. When they are empowered to make decisions and be accountable for their actions, potential leaders take ownership in the success of the company, and often become superior performers.

"The velocity of business is increasing and the pace of change has picked up," says Jim Concelman, manager of leadership development at the Pittsburgh office of DDI, an employee selection and development company. An employee's ability to make independent decisions is especially critical as products and customer expectations evolve. In the wake of this change, the role of leadership is shifting as well, Concelman says. Front-line employees are expected to lead teams, mid-level managers are heading up strategic initiatives, and downsized staffs are expected to take responsibility for more work with less guidance.

These new opportunities call for more than management skills. They also require managers to arouse enthusiasm and establish an environment of respect and dependability in which employees are encouraged and expected to contribute their opinions.

Historically, leadership development has been limited to the executive team and the few up-and-coming people who are groomed to replace them. That was fine in an economy in which the core business strategy could go unchanged for years and a stable corporate culture was the mainstay of success. This strategic model is no longer viable. Today, employees are given leadership titles and expected to figure out how to handle their new roles, but aren't effectively trained. Not surprisingly, they often flounder. The title "leader" in many organizations is met with scorn when the person assigned to the role has no idea how to behave in the new position.

"Offering leadership training is not just a feel-good issue, it's a critical business strategy," says Will Pilder, senior vice president of KnowledgePool Americas, a talent-management company in Nyack, New York. As companies battle for customer loyalty and new products emerge weekly, employees must have a developed set of leadership skills to foster the balance between freedom and reliability.

A successful leader must be able to communicate, motivate, and solve problems, Concelman says. But many managers aren't getting the necessary support to develop these skills. "Managers are taught to do things by the book, whereas leaders need to think of new ways to do things," he says. "The two skill sets are somewhat contradictory."

Jon Katzenbach, senior partner of Katzenbach Partners LLC, a performance consulting firm in New York City, adds that leadership is about more than following a set course. "It's a mind-set of adaptive responsiveness." This quality is particularly important at the front lines, where performance is directly linked to a leader's ability to inspire a team, and a service rep's freedom to respond to unique customer needs can make or break a company's reputation.

"Everyone benefits from leadership development," Pilder says. It prompts employees to work harder for the company and set more challenging career-development goals; it teaches managers to be better coaches to their own direct reports; and it prepares the entire population to react more effectively to a shifting workplace environment.

"Leadership at every level is the only way to infuse an organization with the values and morale to maintain productivity, even in the face of change," Pilder says. It's also the most effective succession-planning technique. No longer can you groom one individual for a specific job; you must have a pool of talented people who can assume any leadership role when the need arises, he says. When companies downsize or management positions open, companies must have the skills and in-house experience to respond to the change immediately.

SMALL COMPANY

Nurturing the Entrepreneurial Spirit

Name: Remarketing Services of America, Inc., a unit of Fiserv, Inc.

Headquarters: Amherst, New York

Type of organization: Manages sales of repossessed and leased vehicles for banks and automative manufacturers

Number of employees: 650

RSA attributes its surprisingly low turnover ate-20 percent annually-to its corporate values, which promote self-motivation, idea-sharing, and personal growth. Every employee is encouraged to set career goals, and leadership development is the foundation of the company's program to advance its most promising staff members. "We are a highly entrepreneurial organization that was founded by strong leaders," says Rita Proulx, a manager in the company's center for learning and development. "We want to drive those leadership skills down to everyone."

To achieve this goal, every new manager is expected to complete a rigorous leadershiptraining curriculum. Regardless of whether they are promoted from within or newly hired managers receive a complete evaluation to determine their leadership strengths and gaps, she says. After six months on the job, they participate in a 360-degree assessment that rates them on 14 established leadership competencies such as building trust, coaching, communication, and delegating authority Based on the results, a custom training program is established to meet their individual needs and potential." The assessment process gives us an opportunity, early on, to guide their development as leaders," Proulx says.

But leadership development isn't limited to managers. It's also aimed at employees just below the first tier of management jobs who show management potential. "We want to build their leadership skills so that when a need arises for a new manager, we have a pool of talent to choose from," she says.

Potential managers receive management and leadership training in skills they are most likely to need immediately on the job, such as relationship-building and conflict resolution. Training in other skills, such as teambuilding and peer assessment, which they may not need until they've been managers for a few months, is offered after the new position has been assigned, she says.

To ensure that the training department is targeting the right people and effectively managing their training needs, RSA recently rolled out the Leadership Emerging and Development program. The 12-month program exposes motivated employees to leadership opportunities through formal training, job rotations, and mentoring. Candidates nominate themselves and are chosen by the management team on the basis of their experience, skills, and past performance. Proulx expects to enroll 2 percent of the staff in the program annually.

The company chose self-nominations over manager recommendations to eliminate favoritism and to be sure that only the most proactive employees participate in the program. "We want people with entrepreneurial spirit who are focused on their own growth and desire to develop their career potential," Proulx says.

While there is no promise that a management job will be waiting when they complete the leadership program, it does ensure that when a job opens, students of LEAD are the most likely candidates. It's also an opportunity for employees to expand their potential for future roles, whether it's with the company or elsewhere, she says.

When responsibility for career advancement is in the hands of employees, Proulx believes, the most innovative associates will naturally rise to the top. "We give them the infrastructure and opportunities to advance, but they are in charge of pursuing their own development. We don't push it."

Leaders Are the Only Differentiator

Name: Fujitsu Transaction Solutions Inc.

Headquarters: Dallas

Type of organization: Technology solutions supplier for retailers and financial-services companies

Number of employees: 1,000

The FTS executive team believes that employees in leadership roles are more dedicated to making the business successful and will take the extra steps to support the needs of customers. The company's culture and vision statements are grounded in a commitment to professional development, leadership, and accountability, says Steve Becker, chief human capital officer. It is the foundation of the company's business strategy and the filter through which every management decision is made, he says. "Everyone is expected to take a leadership role, whether they are service reps or management. It's the most constructive way to take on new business challenges and shape the company for the future."

That doesn't mean employees are free to take control and run with their own ideas. The goal is to achieve a balance of freedom and responsibility, he says. Employees have the flexibility to pursue their own ideas--as they relate to the business and the corporate culture-but they are also held accountable for their actions. "It creates a culture where people are more likely to invest their blood, sweat, and tears in the job."

For example, an important part of the FTS culture is community involvement. "It would be easy for the executive staff to choose some charity and contribute corporate dollars," Becker says. Instead, a small group of employees is responsible for researching charitable foundations and making recommendations. Then the entire employee population votes on which ones they want to support.

From a business perspective, FTS computer salespeople help clients fit individual products into their existing software instead of tying to sell them a brand new system. "We want them to help customers drive the costs of their operations down," Becker says.

To support the company's leadership initiative and to hone employees' decision-making abilities, FTS recently launched the Career Resource Center, a Web-based training and development system from KnowledgePool. The system guides employees and managers through the career-planning process. It tracks skill assessments, maps career goals, and offers competency evaluations to help employees build individual development programs. Once a career plan has been created, employees have access to more than 200 Webbased training courses, ranging from technical to negotiation and communication skills.

The tool also gives management an easyto-access overview of the talents and aspirations of all employees for more thorough succession planning. In the past, promotions were based largely on management recommendations, Becker says. Now the company has a single database cataloging the skills of the entire population, which allows for a more informed, less prejudicial selection process.

The tool is the infrastructure, he says, but employees are expected to take the initiative to use it. With the career-planning feature, employees can set their sights on job promotion and actively develop skills to meet the requirements of that role.

Although the Center has been in place only a few months, employees are pleased that the company is actively supporting their desire to pursue career goals, Becker says. "When employees know that you value them and the contributions they can make, you create a winning culture in which everyone is excited about delivering their best."

A Culture of Leadership

Name: Unisys Corp.

Headquarters: Blue Bell, Pennsylvania

Type of organization: Information technology services and solutions company

Number of end users: 37,000

Company culture is founded on an infrastructure of leadership, says Ray Jackson, associate dean of the leadership school at Unisys University. The firm encourages employees from all ranks to take advantage of the comprehensive training program.

"Leaders set the tone of an organization. If you want to influence the business, you have to focus on leadership development," he says. "Our goal is not to develop 25 key leaders, it's to develop 2,500 leaders throughout the organization."

It's a radical approach in a world where leadership development is usually saved for a few high-performing individuals. "Corporate America beats the leadership skills out of most managers," Jackson says. "The work routine is so task oriented, they lose sight of the primary strategic goals of the company." In the three and a half years since the leadership school was launched at Unisys, 2,200 employees have gone through the program, which is open to anyone interested in expanding his or her leadership skills.

Unisys CEO Larry Weinbach started the program and opened it up to all levels of employees to foster a culture in which leadership skills are celebrated and encouraged, Jackson says. Weinbach is the leadership school's acting dean, a frequent class speaker, and a vocal champion of the program. He believes that developing leaders across the company will create an environment that can change and adapt to the economy, making Unisys a better company.

The leadership curriculum at Unisys features six courses within two tracks focusing on culture and leadership skills. The classroom-based courses are two to five days long and cover core topics such as developing management and team leadership skills, understanding culture-change issues, and understanding the impact that leaders have on performance. "We built a simple curriculum that drives consistency and shapes our culture of leadership," Jackson says.

The skills courses use traditional leadership-training formats, such as practicing communication skills with peers and working with assessment tools, whereas the culture courses are more informal, employing a conversational tone. In fact, the culture courses are referred to as "conversations," in which course leaders introduce specific topics, such as how to influence the Unisys culture through leadership or the roles that leaders play as learners and teachers. Participants discuss how those issues relate to their own job performance and brainstorm solutions to specific workplace problems.

Even though some courses last five days, the school has no trouble filling seats. Leadership training is seen as a priority at Unisys, even in lean times, because it's part of the culture, Jackson says. The entire executive team has gone through both training tracks, and they regularly return to day sessions, both as speakers and as peers, to share a problem or to monitor the leadership concerns of other employees. "That's a powerful and unique show of executive support," Jackson says.

The programs are not mandatory, nor are they limited to management. Almost anyone can sign up with the support of his or her superiors, and many of those junior employees who attend come at the urging of their bosses. At a recent junior session of the five-day cultural-leadership course, for example, 95 percent of attendees had been referred to the course ofter their managers completed it.

Jackson feels that recommenlotions are a large part of the school's success. "It's a real shot in the arm when a manager tells an employee to take the class, and it says a lot about the value of the program."

And when managers know that subordinates have taken the training, they feel more compelled to incorporate what they learned into their management style. For example, in a recent cultural-leadership course, a participant said that her manager had taken the training but nothing changed. Then, two weeks later, Jackson received an e-mail from her. She said she was working late one night and her boss stopped in to chat about changing their approach to a project. The most compelling part of the e-mail, says Jackson, was the last sentence. She said that in the six years she'd worked at Unisys, he'd never stopped by her office to chat. "That tells me he was enlightened by the program," Jackson says. And because he knew that others on his team had gone through the training, he realized that it was time to change his behavior and to take action. "When everyone is exposed to an idea, they hold each other accountable."

To further support and encourage attendees after class and to maximize the impact of the training, Jackson helps attendees set up ongoing networking opportunities. It's not a required part of the course, but people are so excited about the leadership experience that they want to continue to discuss it, he says. The school hosts a moderated online message board and promotes weekly lunch discussion groups in various offices, many of which regularly have 30 or more attendees. "The response has been enormous," Jackson says. He receives dozens of e-mails weekly from former students, some of whom took the pilot course in 1999. "The training is so compelling, some people keep coming back," he says. "It has had a powerful impact on the Unisys culture."

(C) 2002 Workforce. via ProQuest Information and Learning Company; All Rights Reserved

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