Forbes reported this week on a startling new study by Leadership IQ, a company that does a great deal of work on the assessment of employee engagement. The firm examined data from 207 companies on employee performance as well as employee engagement. According to Forbes:
“In 42% of the companies, the employees who do the worst job are the ones who feel the most “engaged.” At the same time, the middle and high performers in those firms feel disconnected from their jobs and not very motivated to come to work every day.” The article, by Susan Adams, does a very nice job of explaining many of the reasons for this result. Adams, drawing on a conversation with Mark Murphy (Leadership IQ CEO), argues that the lack of a true meritocracy causes disengagement among high performers. Company leaders aren’t having the difficult conversations with low performers, and they are not properly recognizing the best employees. I cannot argue with that finding; it seems quite reasonable.
I would argue, however, that one other cause may exist for this alarming finding. Many companies simply are not investing effectively in leadership development for their top performers. Notice that I did NOT say that they are not investing ENOUGH. Many companies are spending a great deal of money on leadership development programs and processes. However, many organizations are not spending that money WISELY.
We see a litany of problems in many companies: Too many one-off events exist. Too many programs lack cohesion. Too many leadership development events lack clear criteria for determining who should be involved or invited. Far too little followup exists after programs are delivered.
Until firms start designing more effective leadership development activities, and begin spending their resources more effectively, we won’t see engagement rise significantly for the highest performers.