Time to Change the Way You Measure Leaders | Steven Howard

Steve Cadigan, LinkedIn’s first Chief Human Resources Officer and author of Workquake, wrote in the Foreword of my book Humony Leadership, “Most legacy leadership models strive to achieve control, consistency, and reliable outcomes. As we all have come to realize in recent years, in a world where so much is unknown, and the pace of change is relentless, what we really need is a model to help us expect change and instability.”

We must also change how we measure, evaluate, and reward leaders.

Here are three new ways to start measuring leaders appropriate for today’s New Abnormal:

  • Ability to build pre-emptive adaptability into plans
  • The employee turnover ratio of the business unit they lead
  • Talent development, especially leadership development

But first, what is a leader? I define a leader as anyone who directly or indirectly leads people. This includes managers, supervisors, team leaders, first-line leaders, second-line leaders, and those higher in the organization.

Pre-Emptive Adaptability

Adaptability is the ability to adjust to changing or evolving circumstances with agility and robustness. This is a highly marketable personal skill and an essential organizational competence in today’s world. Being adaptable is now mandatory for leaders and their teams, departments, or organizations.

In the past, being adaptable was a reflexive and responsive skill. Today, it must become a planned, deliberate, and premeditated proficiency.

The key way adaptability has changed as a leadership skill is in planning and preparing for it. No longer is it sufficient to put a SWOT team together to hurriedly devise a plan of action when a change in execution is needed. Panicking and reacting in moments of crisis seldom produce the best solutions. What is required today is a type of dynamic planning, fortitude, and a leadership evaluation methodology previously unnecessary.

The essence of dynamic planning is formulating strategic and executional plans subject to change and changing conditions. No more setting plans in stone. This is scenario planning taken almost to the extreme. Forget about Plan A coupled with Plan B as a backup. Think now in terms of Plans A, B, C, D, and maybe even E. And also in terms of Plans A, B1, B2, C1, C2, and C3, the numbers indicating derivatives and alternatives for the substitute plans denoted by the letters.

Managers and leaders have long been evaluated on their abilities to deliver against a plan. Now they should be evaluated on their planning processes, including the ability to design plans B, C, D, and E. Yes, it means making plans that will never be delivered. But, more important, it means having plans in place when adaptability is required due to changing circumstances and conditions. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.

With such contingency plans in place, the speed of decision-making and resource allocation in response to a triggering event enables responses to happen quicker, with greater agility, and, most important, using pre-planned forethought. That is much better than reacting to changing events and conditions in real time and without adequate preparation.

Employee Turnover

It is hard to grow your business, department, or unit when one of your priorities is replacing employees who have quit. Yet very few organizations hold their leaders accountable for the employee turnover ratio of their teams.

This is madness, especially when research clearly shows that “people leave bosses, not organizations.” Numerous research studies confirm intolerable, bullying, and results-only focused managers as primary factors in the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting trends.

Yes, the return-to-office mandates have also been a factor in these trends, which is why such corporate-wide policies are more damaging than helpful. So, to make this equitable, department and business unit leaders need to be empowered with the flexibility to determine how their teams and team members work best.

Then, should the control-and-command leaders in the organization make return-to-office mandatory for their teams, and this is not workable for their team members, they will suffer the consequences of higher employee turnover. And senior leaders in the organization should assess them on this and their suitability to remain in place.

On the other hand, people-centric leaders with low employee turnover ratios should be rewarded for whatever they do to enhance employee loyalty and reduce the costs associated with recruiting and onboarding replacement staff.

Developing Talent

People development must become the single most important priority for all leaders. After all, if great leadership is achieving progress through the involvement and actions of others, then greater progress will be made when the people being led are constantly being developed and improved.

Additionally, people development is a highly leveraged catalyst for individuals and the organization. That is why the best leaders is bring out the talent in others.

Without increases in the capabilities, competency, and confidence of your people, growth trajectories for your organization will flatten. Organizational growth rises when the professional and personal capabilities of the human workforce continue to increase. It is that simple.

Do not moan and make excuses like, “What if I develop and train my people and then some of them leave?” Instead, be more concerned about what will happen if you do not develop and train your team members and they stay. How competitive will you be in that situation? Where will your organizational growth come from if your team members are not being developed to handle more complicated and challenging situations?

The lack of development opportunities has also been cited as a major contributor to the ongoing Great Resignation scenario. If leaders are measured – and rewarded – for people development, they will be incentivized to use the internal and external people development resources available to them. They will also put people development higher on their priority lists. And that is what you want. If people are your “greatest assets,” as so many organizations spout, then you want to be growing your most important assets!

No one wakes up and says, “I cannot wait to be managed today.” And certainly no one says, “I cannot wait to be micromanaged by my boss today.”

People do not want to be managed. Managing people is a 1980s construct no relevant or applicable today. People want to be led. To be motivated. Trusted. Given opportunities to grow their skill sets and decision-making capabilities.

They want (and need) to be coached, mentored, empowered, unshackled from directives, and freed from being told how to accomplish their work. Your leaders, throughout your organization, need to excel at the coaching and people development aspects of leadership. Your leaders must put their micromanaging tendencies aside and escalate micro-coaching activities to produce sustainable results.

With people development being mission-critical for the long-term success of your business, your leaders need to be measured on this vital factor. One measurement yardstick should include the number of their staff who are promoted internally within the organization. Great leaders produce more leaders, not followers. Shouldn’t you be measuring and rewarding this?

You Get What You Measure

Three of the most influential factors in the long-term success of your business are 1) how your organization adapts to constant change, instability, and uncertainty, 2) controlling the costs and business interruptions of employee turnover, and 3) growing and developing talent across the organization.

The old saying “you get what you measure” is extremely applicable. As these are the keys to the future growth of your organization, these are some of the most important ways you should measure, evaluate, and reward your leaders at every level of your organization.

Steven Howard 

Award-winning Leadership Author | Keynote Speaker,

Steven Howard is the award-winning author of 22 leadership, business, and professional development books. His latest book is Humony Leadership: Mindsets, Skills, and Behaviors for Being a Successful People-Centric Leader. In awarding the book a Gold Medal, the Nonfiction Authors Association called Humony Leadership “a significant work with an important mission.”

Steven was named to the 2023 Top 200 Global Biggest Voices in Leadership list by the LeadersHum network in recognition of his thought-provoking and leading-edge thinking on leadership.

Steven was also named to the Brainz CREA Global 2023 list of top entrepreneurs, influential leaders, and innovators for his thought leadership and writing.

His book Better Decisions. Better Thinking. Better Outcomes. How to go from Mind Full to Mindful Leadership, received a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Authors Association. He is also the co-author of Strong Women Speak on Leadership, Success, and Living Well.

A highly accomplished platform and virtual speaker, Steven provides Leadership Keynote Speeches globally for public and corporate conferences, off-site meetings, leadership retreats, product launches, and association meetings.

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