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By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership” – Harvey S. Firestone
Through this quote, Harvey Firestone demonstrates his belief in people as a company’s most important asset and it reflects his stature as a revolutionary business thinker in the early 20th century. This philosophy also reflects the approach to people development at General Electric Company, (at least under Jack Welch) where managers were taught that their most important job was to grow and develop their people. To quote Jack Welch, “Great people build great companies. Talent development is not a slogan at GE, it is a way of life.” (Training and Development – The GE Way)
The potential for this philosophy as a model has been proven through implementation of GE’s well-developed annual HR review process, for example. Here, talent is ranked and rated every year and plans are put in place to develop skills through a host of training opportunities and placements. Some excel, while others may be let go. In this way, the company is assured of maintaining top people in the industry. In fact, GE has long invested in its training center at Crotonville, New York, the John F. Welch Leadership Development Center. “Worldwide we invest about $1 billion every year on training and education programs for the people of GE. The results can be measured in the increasing leadership capabilities of our own people and ultimately in the value and opportunity generated for our customers and their communities”. (Leadership and Learning)
Speaking as a former GE employee, with such an emphasis on people development, the individual employee is motivated toward continuous improvement of self and to the competitive edge of the company. The downside is that the slots for these programs are very competitive, and at GE if you did not advance through these programs and receive the commensurate promotions, the philosophy became the famous GE mantra “up or out”.
With a $1 billion price tag, it’s no surprise that many other companies do not possess such sophisticated programs or share GE’s focus on people development, and this is where the limitations of a people-focused leadership paradigm exist. For instance, my current employer attempts to model programs after the GE example, albeit minus the $1B. However, often the people selected for these programs are political appointees and not the best candidates causing resentment and apathy among others. Additionally, many people emerge from these programs with little or no difference in skills or behavior but advance anyway because they have survived a year of one of these programs. In fact, one leadership program in particular was almost canceled due to the mediocre quality of the participants. Furthermore, the people supporting these programs are often not qualified in their roles and are limited in their ability to influence and demonstrate personal and professional growth. However, the company does offer generous educational benefits as well as other outside training opportunities, and these have the full backing of every level of management.
When people feel valued, they respond with loyalty and respect and commitment. Behaviors at all levels change positively, and a sense of accomplishment motivates people to do more than required. To quote the GE leadership literature, “Speak to a GE leader and you’ll begin to understand why 90 percent of GE’s top 600 leaders are promoted from within. Our people are passionate, resourceful and committed. And GE invests around $1 billion every year in their growth.” (Leadership Development Fact Sheet, 2009)
Conversely, at my current company, “People” is listed as one of the corporate values, however, the company does not always walk the talk. Many practical changes would need to be put in place in order to affect a meaningful shift to an appreciation and focus on people. One major change would be to implement a professional HR organization who understands its charter as incubating the golden eggs of the corporation, its people. Harvey Firestone would understand that!
Leadership and Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.ge.com/company/culture/leadership_learning.html
Leadership Development Fact Sheet. (2009). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.ge.com/pdf/innovation/leadership/leadership_development_fact_sheet.pdf
Training and Development – The GE Way. (n.d.). Retrieved May 25, 2010, from http://www.icmrindia.org/casestudies/catalogue/Human%20Resource%20and%20Organization%20Behavior/Training%20and%20Development-GE%20Way-Human%20Resource%20Management.htm
Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.
Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.
Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.
Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.
(401) 742-1965 – www.encoreexecutivecoaching.com/