HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd

So… you want to develop your leaders?

Bloomberg’s new leadership initiative is shaking up talent development and assessment – are they doing it right?
So… you want to develop your leaders?
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“Automation. AI. Continuous business change. Volatile environments.” Jig Ramji, Global Head of Leadership and Talent Development at Bloomberg LP, the financial, software, data and media giant, is listing the factors that often take precedent, at least in Executives’ thinking, when considering upgrades to their leadership development initiatives. On today’s changeable business landscape funds more often get directed towards firefighting, to playing catch-up, to not getting left behind than to abetting leadership development.

Ironically, Jig adds, it’s in these conditions that businesses need great leaders to help them surmount constantly iterating business challenges. “It’s not very predictable, in this environment, which organisations will – never mind be successful – survive,” Jig tells HR Grapevine. “However, the one thing people can point to is that organisations can survive if they invest in strong leadership – not only at the top of the organisation but throughout.”

Yet, leaders don’t grow on trees. At least, not all of them. Or, if they do, you need some pretty nifty initiatives to coax the best out of them, to help them flourish and measure their success. Some of the biggest firms are getting savvy to this. LinkedIn, Barclays, Disney and Microsoft have overhauled, or are overhauling, their leadership development capabilities as a reaction to a changeable business landscape.


Why are leadership development schemes important?
Until recently, leadership development schemes had, broadly speaking, taken a backseat. “Leadership development went through a patch where people knew it was really important and talked about how important it was, but there wasn’t a huge evolution in the results it was providing,” Jig explains. He continues that in a post-crash business environment, financial functions were a bit more edgy about where outlay was going. “It became so hard to prove the return on investment that people started to think, let’s take a step back and not spend so much on this,” Jig says.

However, today’s business climate means many firms are looking at leadership development upgrades as a silver bullet. Bloomberg amongst them. It has recently launched a new leadership development framework. Not only does it seek to understand the leadership capability of individuals and the company as a whole – “It can show us where our strengths are; where we need to focus,” Jig explains – it will help the organisation mitigate against macro-sized risk by giving all employees the opportunity to develop their skillsets. It is also hoped that there will be benefits for recruitment and retention, the company’s culture, and the diversity of leadership talent throughout the firm.


Bloomberg’s behavioural framework
Up until this year Bloomberg didn’t have a coherent leadership assessment function. "We had no way of assessing our leaders,” Jig explains. With different metrics to measure leadership performance, across six major business functions, leadership measurement, let alone development, wasn’t aligned. “The data [we had on leadership strengths] wouldn’t tell you a story because the data was measuring different things; it was inconsistent,” he adds. He admits that when the question was asked, What makes a great leader at Bloomberg? – the answer would often be: “Hmmm, I’m not very sure.” This, Jig explains, needed to change.

Bloomberg’s new approach was fronted by a qualitative analysis of what leadership figures at the company believed key leader attributes were. By canvassing leaders across Bloomberg, Jig’s team ensured they weren’t creating a generic top-down programme. They wanted to create a coherent Bloomberg leadership language that came from leaders within the company as well as data highlighting recurring leadership behaviours and themes.

Crucially, the leaders they spoke to were diverse backgrounds. They worked around the globe and were from differing levels of the hierarchy: from the most senior to line managers. “What we found was really interesting,” Jig reveals. “Regardless of who you were, or what type of leader you were, there were six themes that were consistent across the board.” To validate their findings, senior leaders who weren’t interviewed in the original research had the results put to them and asked, are these the characteristics that define leadership at Bloomberg? “You know what,” Jig tells me, “even leaders who hadn’t been with Bloomberg for a long period of time recognised what the data was telling us about the way a leader could be successful at Bloomberg.”

What were the six themes, though? Well, they took the form of behaviours: developing people to achieve, communicating a vision, adjusting the course, creating an inclusive and diverse work environment, networking to get stuff done and spotting gaps in order to seize opportunities. These behaviours were then turned into a framework and learning hub that could be accessed by those wanting to progress as a leader as well as those needing to assess the state of leadership at Bloomberg.

Regardless of who you were, or what type of leader you were, there were six themes that were consistent across the board

 

Unless we incorporate that mindset, the HR function could continue to struggle to be at the focal point of any business strategy


What will success look like for Bloomberg?

Jig is well placed to lead this assessment of Bloomberg’s own leadership assessment capabilities. With two degrees in psychology, his professional career started by assessing leaders for executive search firm GatenbySanderson. “It was the closest thing to where I am now,” he says. After his headhunting days, he had a fairly mixed HR career – spending almost a decade and a half working, and consulting, in reward and organisational design as well as on transformation programmes across the globe. He thinks this has helped him be a better leader. “It’s all very different to what I do now,” he says, citing the commercial and strategic skills this lattice-style career has given him, “but it helped me become a better leader and that helps me head up the leadership development arm.”

One of Jig’s key responsibilities, heading up Bloomberg’s Leadership & Talent Development team, will be adjudging if the scheme has been successful. One way will be if it can be used to effectively assess leadership capability. This is why creating central leadership characteristics that could be applicable to all of the company’s functions was crucial. It allows an individual to be benchmarked against these and to understand what they need to do to progress. “You [Bloomberg employee] should be assessed on Bloomberg’s leadership competencies – both from a future-potential perspective and a selection perspective.”

Allowing Bloomberg to assess individuals on these competencies allows the New York-headquartered firm to create pipelines of precious leadership talent – reducing attrition rates, unlocking the skills of incumbent talent, and attracting external high-potential candidates; something which even the biggest name employers are now beginning to struggle with on an employment landscape where candidates are increasingly in control. It will also allow them to move talent around, to plug gaps and assess where leadership skills are most needed. “It will allow us to get the most out of the diversity of skillsets, which can make us more effective as an organisation,” Jig says.

It’s not just about assessment though. For every individual at Bloomberg, Jig hopes the framework will “educate employees on how to be successful.” Being aware that there are multiple ways to display leadership characteristics, Jig explains that creating core leadership competencies was in order to “create a supporting framework to say, ‘this is what makes a great leader, but how you hone those skills can be quite different.’” This, Jig adds, allows individuals to “develop their own leadership skills, whether it’s becoming a subject matter expert, taking on a new skill, or just effectively leading a meeting.”

At the centre of the initiative is the online content hub, designed for team-leaders to access in order to develop the skills of their teams or for individuals to access so they can develop personal leadership skills. Described as a “content ecosystem”, it teaches individuals the skills associated with a Bloomberg leadership characteristic by pointing them to specific articles. “The hub will help to develop skillsets: how an individual will develop themselves; think about themselves; develop their skillsets; it is individualised and customised,” Jig adds.

Which all dovetails to ensuring the Bloomberg employees understand what leadership is – and can start to become a leader. “If we don’t educate our own people around what makes you a successful leader at Bloomberg, how can they know? The reality is: if you truly educate people on what makes you a successful leader, they’ve got a better chance of developing those skillsets and being prepared to take on that responsibility.”


How do you get buy-in for your leadership programme?
Jig is aware that success will also rely on how well they communicate the new framework and hub internally. “You can be the best designers of a service or a product – it can even be the best thing you’ve made in your career – but if you don’t communicate it in the right way, you’ll go bust,” he admits. “Success is about how you engage with your stakeholders and communicating things in a way that captures hearts and minds.”

To ensure that the new model sparks behavioural changes, the team have worked hard to secure Executive sponsorship as well as creating an internal marketing campaign – including cultivating a social media presence and hosting town halls, as well as sharing communication from Bloomberg's Head of HR about why leadership is important. Again, Jig is aware that top-down is not the only approach that works as employees respond well to their peers. “We’ve used some more junior people [as champions of the rollout] to talk about what has really touched them about great leadership. Sometimes just having senior leaders can invoke the response, ‘Ah, but that’s boring…’”


Lions led by lambs?
By allowing employees to take control of the learning, Bloomberg are tapping into current trends around getting employee buy-in. Furthermore, by communicating the scheme using peer voices, making the framework bespoke to Bloomberg and trying to ground desirable leadership attributes – referring to them as behaviours rather than couching them in abstract leadership jargon – Jig’s team are working hard to ensure it is applicable and accessible to every employee.

They must be doing some things right already. Michael Bloomberg, Founder and CEO, has a 98% UK-employee approval rating; if that isn’t a model for great leadership it’s hard to see what might be. The firm aren't resting on their laurels though. Jig understands that in this “volatile environment” leadership capabilities will constantly evolve as business needs do. HR must go along with this in order to help find the capabilities to succeed in a difficult environment. The benefit being this will also help the function itself. “We’ve got to be proactive,” he says. “Unless we incorporate that mindset, the HR function could continue to struggle to be at the focal point of any business strategy.”


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