Leadership development generates ROI


“I enjoyed reading your column, ‘Avoid the pitfalls of failed leaders,’ in the Nov. 11-24 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee. You referenced four elements that comprise effective leadership development programs. Can you elaborate on these elements?”


That column explored the four “pillars” of leadership development programs (Infrastructure, Identifying Participants, Program/Content, and Evaluating Effectiveness). In this column, I will use a case study to explore each of the four pillars in some detail.

Leadership effectiveness drives organizational effectiveness. Excellent leaders produce excellent results. Poor leaders produce poor results. From this perspective, a central question becomes, “What is the organization doing on a systematic and ongoing basis to cultivate and expand the contributions and capabilities of its leaders?”

The case study I will use in this column involves Environmental Systems Inc. (ESI), a Brookfield -based professional services firm, that provides technology and services for facilities that improve efficiency and sustainability, reduce operating cost and increase comfort, productivity, and safety. Founded in 1986, ESI offers a wide range of technology and services in the areas of automation, system integration, energy management, security, life safety, building operations, software applications, support services, and education.

ESI has established a set of core beliefs that guide the company’s practices. A commitment to leadership development is just one example of how the company “walks the talk” along these lines. The program is championed by Ernie Allen, ESI’s vice president for corporate education, who directs the company’s Environmental Systems University (ESU).

I recently spoke with Allen about ESI’s leadership development program to learn more about the company’s practices relative to the four pillars of leadership development.

Here are some highlights of my discussion with Mr. Allen:

Infrastructure (i.e., establishing the context for leadership development)

In building the leadership development program at ESI, top management sets strategy and business growth goals, creates challenges, and provides mentoring and support, while clearly defining what the company wants future leaders to accomplish.

Leadership development, as an important organizational initiative, is a reflection of ESI’s ongoing commitment, to recruitment, on-boarding, individual development planning, performance management, feedback systems, recognition, succession planning, and compensation. All of these initiatives are linked to the company’s corporate beliefs and workplace values.

Identifying participants (i.e., choosing participants)

ESI strives to promote from within. Employees who bring the most energy, innovation, and ambition are offered a leadership development program, in addition to the core learning programs. The company offers a 12-month leadership development series that includes a 360-degree feedback instrument to help prepare a personal development plan, monthly workshops, and one-on-one coaching for each participant.

Developmental programming (i.e., offering a formal developmental process)

ESI’s core learning programs focus on five distinct areas: (1) ESI’s brand, (2) working as an effective team, (3) being a collaborative team player, (4) continuous improvement, and (5) technical competency.

All of the sessions are custom-designed around ESI’s core beliefs and workplace values. ESI uses both in-house personnel and outside facilitators. Employees who successfully complete the entire series of core learning are awarded Customer Service Certificate Program (CSCP) recognition.

Program evaluation (i.e., determining program effectiveness)

ESI uses typical post-training evaluations to identify things that work and things that do not, in the learning sessions. The company does follow-ups to make adjustments to course content/methodologies for the next time the session is offered. On occasion, a given program has even been redesigned based on employee feedback.

ESI views learning as a key differentiator in the marketplace. The company believes that its ability to provide value to the client is directly proportional to the knowledge and experience its employees bring to the table. In that sense, increasing levels of expertise support business growth. ESI is committed to the development, motivation, and recognition of its employees. The company provides its employees with the tools, training, and support they need to achieve excellence in employee engagement and client satisfaction

From a corporate learning perspective, Allen indicated that the evolution of ESU very closely resembles the process that the company uses when it engages an outside client. ESI assesses, implements, and it measures. In other words, the company asks questions and listens, so that it can evaluate the client’s unique situation before embarking on any solution.

The same is true for the provision of learning programs for employees, including leadership development. What are a person’s strengths, opportunities, aspirations, and goals? In answering this question (and related ones), ESI works with its employees to define a clear set of goals and priorities. Together, a customized plan is established so the employee can start making progress as soon as possible. Ultimately, ESI measures results to ensure that effective progress is being made in terms of performance against ESI’s core competencies (i.e., its corporate beliefs and workplace values)

Allen noted that the key for ESU, like the organization at-large, is that it continues to evolve. He observed that, “It is essential for business growth that ESI embrace the change that is today’s fast-moving environment by giving employees the opportunity to learn new skills, explore new opportunities, and exercise their creativity in ways that ultimately benefit the organization and its growth goals.”

I hope you were impressed by the story that Mr. Allen shared. I sure was. Frankly, what was most impressive to me was the organization-wide commitment for the program, driven and sponsored by top-level leaders in the “C-suite” of the company. At ESI, clearly leadership development is not a flavor of the month initiative; it is a core program designed to drive organizational effectiveness for years to come. Focused on extending the culture of the company, ESI has crafted a leadership development program that fits its unique context. It is a systematic, systemic, and sustained approach.

From my way of looking at it, that is absolutely the right way to go.

Daniel A. Schroeder, Ph.D. is president of Brookfield-based Organization Development Consultants, Inc. (www.OD-Consultants.com). He can be reached at (262) 827-1901 or Dan.Schroeder@OD-Consultants.com

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