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2020 Leadership Development Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities


“There’s a lot to unpack in The Ken Blanchard Companies’ 2020 HR / L&D Trend Survey,” says incoming company president Scott Blanchard. The challenge, according to Blanchard, is how to identify the leadership, learning, and talent development patterns in the data and discern how those patterns could influence planned leadership development initiatives.

“For example, the 800-plus HR and L&D professionals who responded to this year’s survey identified that their individual development efforts will focus first on mid-level and frontline leaders—especially those stepping into a new leadership role for the first time,” says Blanchard. “That’s good news, given the fact that 60% of people who are promoted into management fail to reach expected levels of performance.

“Managers rarely receive training in leadership before they attain their first manager role. Even after doing the job for two years, most still haven’t had any managerial training. Left to figure things out on their own, some new managers will succeed—but many will not.”

Blanchard says prospective managers should receive training before they take on the new role, not after—and the training should be focused on the soft skills of performance management.

“It’s really important for new leaders to create trusting, positive relationships as they step into a first-time manager role. Leaders must know how to achieve clarity, manage relationships effectively, have good conversations, and build trust. Even though these are considered soft skills, they are essential for effective management.

“The good news is that the top three leadership skills targeted for development in 2020 are all soft skills: building trust, coaching, and listening.”

Creating a positive culture

The second takeaway Blanchard highlights from the survey is the number of L&D professionals who are planning to focus on culture initiatives in 2020 with an eye toward making their organisations more supportive and change ready. Blanchard believes that success in this area requires a connection to the organisation’s overall vision.

“Culture guides the way that people work, either together or apart, to achieve the goals of the organisation. In the strongest cultures, people feel connected to the vision and to other people in the company in a meaningful way. They perceive that cooperation is not only expected and reinforced at the top, it’s truly ‘the way we do things around here.’

“When people have a clear sense of overall organisational goals and how they fit in, they don’t hesitate to cross functional boundaries and help out, work harder, and serve customers more effectively.

“Great things happen when organisational culture is in good shape. But if the culture goes the other way—if it’s a culture of mistrust, fear, and coercion—human beings will seek safety and comfort within their own units. This can create a fractional organisation, with people and work siloed within little tribes. In a worst-case scenario, people may spend time and energy individually seeking safety and protection for themselves. If leaders don’t manage the culture, the culture will manage the company.”

Improving change readiness

Blanchard also notes that many L&D professionals are looking to improve change readiness in 2020. They want to know how to create a more change-ready organisation.

“The business environment continues to change at an increasing rate. Leaders who can effectively support people through change can minimise the negative effect change has on both individuals and the organisation.

“A lot of organisations don’t take note of the research-based principles on change management that are widely available today. They still view change as something they have to struggle through. This lack of understanding ends up extending and deepening the resistance that comes with any changes they attempt. Once this happens, people in the organisation see every change as a negative disturbance, not a positive opportunity.

“The best companies we’ve worked with have a ‘change happens constantly’ mindset. They see change as something that helps them get to where they need to go. It’s critically important that leaders of organisations find ways to be comfortable with change. Every single business in every single market is experiencing massive, fundamental change—and an inability to manage through it is not going to help.”

Increasing access to training

Blanchard is excited to see the number of L&D professionals who called out ‘increasing access to training’ in the survey as their number one initiative for 2020. But Blanchard has an important caveat.

“Improving training access is easy. You just have to buy it. But most people who have access to training aren’t actually using it. Utilisation rate for large libraries of really useful content is well under 10% in most organisations. So, to me, the question is not how to increase training access—it’s how to increase the likelihood that people are actually going to use the content that you’ve laid out in front of them.

“In our experience, people don’t naturally gravitate toward consuming content that helps them become more effective employees or leaders inside of an organisation. There are companies where people do consume a lot of content for their own benefit, but it doesn’t happen simply by granting them access. The company has to create a context, a container, and an experience for people to actually use the content they’ve been given access to. Technology offers the means—now we have to create the strategy and wraparound that makes it enticing.”

Overall, Blanchard is encouraged by the findings in the 2020 L&D Trend report.

“The summary statement in this year’s report concludes that HR and L&D professionals will be focusing on the development of employees at all levels—with a special emphasis on frontline and mid-level leaders—to improve their organisation’s ability to collaboratively succeed and grow in a changing environment. That’s a great direction to move in—and one that will generate very positive results in organisations where it is deployed successfully!”

About the author:

David Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for The Ken Blanchard Companies. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast CompanyHuman Resource Development ReviewChief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

First published on The Ken Blanchard Companies Blog
2 January 2020