It is almost mid-year and you can feel the business cycle getting faster.

What if your leaders had significantly higher goal achievement and displayed the leadership competencies needed to take your organization into a better future? What if, in the midst of change, your leaders held their employees accountable for needed behaviors and actions – and your customers responded with more orders? What if your leaders were more prepared for expansion and you could open a new office this year in California, or even China? What if changes in your leaders’ behaviors led to improved culture, lower turnover and higher quality recruits?

Too often, we find it easier to focus on today’s To Do List than to set aside time for training and skill-reinforcement activities, yet we know that today’s skills will not take our organizations to a higher level. We need different skills to move into a new marketplace in another state, but this is especially true if the new operation is overseas. We need better skills to ignite engagement in direct reports who are already working as hard and long as they can. We need new ways to encourage risk taking, innovation and better and different results.

Based on a variety of studies, we know that there is a connection between leadership development practices, employee engagement, customer loyalty, and an organization’s bottom line. There is a clear connection between the quality of an organization’s leadership practices – as perceived by employees – and subsequent intentions by employees to stay with an organization, perform at a higher level, and apply discretionary effort.

The investment of training time and dollars pays off. Depending on the size of the organization and the current gaps in management skills, better leadership practices can improve an organization’s bottom line by hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of dollars.

The challenge is time. In the same way that individual leaders hope to find a little more time in the future to plan and prioritize their work, it’s the same with organizations. But if Americans do anything well, it is manage time. Time is more valuable to us than love, sex or money. As long as we are not wasting time, we are willing to do whatever is added to our schedule.

So as leaders in organizations, we must set the expectation that skill development is going to happen on an ongoing basis, and it is worth the time because our clients will never stop raising the bar. We must set the expectation that new skills are not just “nice to have,” they are worth the time because new skills are critical to achieving growth goals and a better bottom line. We must set the expectation that new skills will be implemented and become part of the culture, and that is worth the time because our culture either attracts top talent or repels it.

There are seven steps to improving your organization’s leadership skills.

Collect input on specific leadership skills needs. Conduct a survey of leaders as well as their direct reports. Ask, “What skills would make you a better leader?” and “What skills would help your manager to bring out your best performance?” Once you have the initial skills list, prioritize them through input from focus groups or even interviews.

Develop a pilot program. In reality, all training programs are “pilots,” if they are to remain current with changing organizational needs.

Develop your program’s reinforcement approach. Too much learning is lost within a week because there is no expectation of implementation and no connection to performance management. To ensure that new skills become part of the expected repertoire of leadership behaviors, consider reinforcement through renewal sessions, individual and group coaching, and action learning projects.

Develop baseline metrics to determine the impact of training. Metrics could include the percentage of goals achieved compared to those without the training, percentage of participants still with the organization after one year and three years, percentage of participants promoted after one year and two years, etc.

Implement the pilot program and be sure participants provide feedback. Keep the attendance to 20 or fewer so that all participants have a chance to ask questions and participate. Administer evaluations before the participants leave for the highest percentage of responses. Evaluations will tell you not only whether the participants found the information valuable, but also what elements they plan to implement immediately, and more.

Measure the results. Measurement should not be finished with participant evaluations. Use your baseline metrics and be prepared to report to senior management on the impact over time.

Tweak and repeat. To maximize organizational impact and keep the learning momentum going, plan a second training opportunity within three months for new hires and those unable to attend the pilot program. Unless there is a strong reason to wait, the organization will benefit most from having all leaders on the same page, using the same language and expecting the same behaviors from each other.

To get in front of an ever-faster business cycle, we must improve our leaders’ skills, which in turn, will improve our employees’ performance. Delaying leader development has a cost: we may be late to market with a new product, we may have more errors, we may have fewer repeat customers and our employee turnover rate will surely not improve by itself.  

Why leader development now? Because there will never be “more time,” “enough time” or a “better time” to change your organization’s course toward growth. Delaying development delays growth.

Nancy Ahlrichs is business development consultant for FlashPoint.

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