Fewer than one-third of the world’s entire workforce are fully engaged when they come to work. Ineffective leadership has proven to be a key contributor to both low engagement and low productivity in the workplace – so much so that Gallup’s 2014 State of the American Workplace report estimated that disengaged employees cost the U.S. economy approximately $550 billion per year in lost productivity. Of that, an average $86 billion is lost annually as a result of disengaged leadership.

A Leadership Shortfall

The leadership shortage is one of the biggest barriers to the growth, prosperity and sustainability of organizations. In fact, developing new leaders is the top talent challenge facing organizations worldwide, with 86 percent of companies rating it “urgent” or “important. This leadership talent challenge becomes even more pressing as aging leaders retire and millennials assume leadership roles.

Millennials will be our future leaders, yet many organizations are not preparing them to become leaders. These organizations are choosing not to invest in their current millennial workforce because of their proclivity to “job-hop.” According to Stephen Burnett, professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, millennials’ loyalty is something a company must earn. It is understood that millennials job-hop when they see that they won’t be able to fulfill their career goals with their current employer. Once they see the organization is making an investment in them, for many, their trust and loyalty will follow.

Developmental Investment Is Key for Leadership and Loyalty

The key to retaining and engaging your millennial workforce is to provide them with the professional development and stretch assignments they need to advance their career. According to a 2015 Mercer survey, “more than three-quarters (78%) of employees report they would stay with their current employer if they knew their career path.”

These conditions actually pose a tremendous opportunity for organizations that choose to focus on growing their own leaders. Organizations that invest in their workforce have a competitive advantage over those that choose to do nothing or to recruit leaders from outside. This advantage comes from developing quality talent, retaining engaged employees and developing aspiring leaders

Talent development programs that include leadership development programming create a leadership pipeline with a pool of strong internal candidates who know and trust your organization. View these developmental efforts as parallel to your efforts to attract and retain customer loyalty. Treat your employees like your customers, and you will gain their loyalty.

Off the Shelf, Custom Content or…?

Investing in talent development and, ultimately, in leadership development will keep your people engaged, productive and loyal and will feed your leadership pipeline into the future. The question then becomes whether you should buy off-the-shelf leadership development courseware or customize the content.

The biggest advantage of customization is that you get exactly what you want. The courses are customized to your organization, values and culture. The downside is cost. They can be quite expensive and may require more internal resources if the development takes place in house.

Off-the-shelf content is typically less expensive, but the courses are not customized to your organization. There is no real opportunity to shape loyalty by exploring the values and culture upon which the organization is built.

However, there is a third alternative: a hybrid approach that involves selecting off-the-shelf courseware content that is then customized to reflect your organization. A hybrid leadership development program captures the best of both worlds: It retains the main benefits of a custom solution but for a lower cost. Adopting a hybrid approach to developing quality leaders from within your organization will become your secret recipe for retaining engaged employees, developing aspiring leaders and staying competitive in the marketplace.

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