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Leadership Development Survey of Nonprofit Organisations Yields Surprising Results


In early 2012, the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit group that helps consolidate and provide resources for philanthropic nonprofit groups, conducted a survey of nonprofit leaders. The survey focused on whether leaders were systematically preparing new leaders to replace future departures.

Over 225 leaders of some of the biggest nonprofit companies in the world answered the survey, and the results are educational for executives of all organisations, proprietary or nonprofit.

The results of the survey revealed some problems that are common themes in contemporary business.  Leaders were given the following choices: strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. The survey asked questions about whether or not leaders are engaged in developing leaders. For the purposes of the rest of this piece, “agree” will include both “agree” and “strongly agree” answers.

70% agreed that the CEO is engaged, 64% answered that current leaders are engaged, and 69% answered that the culture of their company strongly supports leadership development.

In a trend that should be disturbing to most leaders, only 35.9% agreed that leaders are held accountable for implementing leadership development, 37.9% agreed that board members are engaged in taking action, 43.7% agreed that current leaders are recognised for their efforts, and 41.5% agreed that their companies expend sufficient resources for leadership training.

The consensus of the executives was that companies were not doing enough to train and identify future leaders. Only 38.7% agreed that the leader capacity needed within three to five years was understood, while 36.6% agreed that potential successors had been identified, and an alarming 27.6% agreed that plans were in place to address filling leadership vacancies.

On the bright side, 64.5% agreed that the quality of on-the-job development was sufficient for their needs, but only 46.3% agreed that the quality of their formal training was sufficient. Furthermore, only 43% agreed that the quality of mentoring and coaching in their nonprofit organisation was sufficient, and an anaemic 28.5% agreed that potential leaders have any development plans.

As is often the case in many proprietary companies, the nonprofits seemed to be focused on hiring externally. 76.2% agreed that external candidates are attracted to their organisation, while 72.8% agreed that their screening was effective, and 59.4% agreed that their organisations’ integration and on-boarding of new leaders was effective.

The biggest cause for concern in the survey was the fact that only 30.5% felt that they have clear goals for leadership development and only 23% collect data to evaluate progress.

Bridgespan drew a series of conclusions from this survey that we find relevant to many businesses. The first conclusion was that most leaders are engaged in leadership development, but don’t always take action. We see that as a common problem in Perth, and pretty much anywhere we have worked with businesses.

Many business executives are so busy “putting out fires” that they often put leadership training near the bottom of their list of priorities. This is why 58.5% of respondents reported that their company doesn’t invest sufficient resources toward leadership development.

Bridgespan also concluded that businesses generally don’t understand their future needs when it comes to training successors. They see the usual approach as reactive, rather than proactive. They also concluded that the nonprofits, as a whole, fail to identify potential leaders early enough to have them trained by the time they are needed.

We find that to be in line with a lot of the feedback we have gotten from our clients. Helping companies to identify future leaders is incorporated into our training, and we feel that we have been very successful at helping companies both identify and develop future leaders.

The survey also indicated that businesses also don’t understand the future needs of their employees, and that very few companies have created development plans for individuals. Bridgespan recommends creating development plans that are designed to provide development opportunities based on individual needs.

Bridgespan concluded that companies are “strong” at external hiring, but we see it more as compensation than strength. When a company has to hire from outside for most of its leadership and management positions, we feel that they do so because they have failed to adequately develop the people who are already working for them. This fits in well with the final conclusion that companies are weak at monitoring and improving their staff, as evidenced in the low percentage of those who have clear leadership development goals.

Costs vary from company to company, but we can state with the utmost in confidence that it always costs more to advertise, interview, screen, and train an outsider than it does to develop an employee who is already working for the company.

If you don’t already have a leadership development program in place, it’s time to invest in one. Don’t leave leadership to chance.


Ron Cacioppe

Ron Cacioppe is the Managing Director of Integral Development and holds a BSc, an MBA and a PhD. He has taught in the Graduate School of Management at Macquarie University, Curtin University and the University of Western Australia.

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