FEATURE – Beware the derailers – New tool helps leaders identify strengths, weaknesses

Posted on Jan 1, 2012 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Leaders at nearly any level of experience know the unique challenges of keeping a team on track. They know the role they play – and how they play it – can make or break an organization.

Finding tools to improve leadership skills can be an expensive, daunting challenge, but an innovation developed in the New North region will soon help corporate movers and shakers across the United States know exactly where they stand. Called enVision.360, it’s a human resources tool that targets performance-critical competencies for leaders at four organizational levels of any company: executive, middle management, front-line leader and individual contributor. Its developers, Tom Wiltzius, of Wiltzius Associates, and Gail Wise, managing principal of Organizational Development Partners, are already fielding calls from interested organizations around the nation.

The comprehensive program measures both positive competency behaviors as well as what Wise calls “derailers” – those behaviors that can cause a career to jump the tracks. Wise says the term derailers was inspired by the book, Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (by Tim Irwin, 2009). She describes four derailers at any level of an organization that will do that: A lack of authenticity, problems with self management, an absence of humility and courage to make decisions.

“As leaders, most of us at one time or another have fallen into these categories,” explains Wise. “We wanted to help people overcome this problem not just by providing a numerical score, but by showing you how this problem is directly affecting your job performance.”


Custom performance

Wise, who is no stranger to creating 360 HR measurement programs, has been working with several companies in the soft launch stage of enVision.360. The tool, officially launching this month, provides both quantitative and open-ended feedback, to allow companies to provide both numerical ratings and “color commentary” to their leadership teams.

“We’re especially proud of how customizable this program is, and how organizations of any size can easily measure the competencies of their teams by offering a unique place to do that,” Wise says, pointing to a robust website individually styled for each client, complete with their own corporate logo and language.

The idea is to start conversations around personal competencies and help leaders grow as they engage in the workplace. For executives, that might mean the way they earn trust and confidence, communicate openly or collaborate productively.

The feedback will allow open discussion on how to improve on innovation, direction and organizational savvy – core elements that leaders in today’s competitive companies can’t be without.


Home-grown innovation

The spark for this new tool all started last winter for Wiltzius, who was contacted by HR executives Margie Harvey, vice president at Miles Kimball in Oshkosh, and Patty Van Ryzin, vice president of HR at Bassett Mechanical in Kaukauna. Both had relied on leadership assessment tools that were no longer available and were replaced by more costly tools and processes.

The three wanted to see what it would take to create a custom, comprehensive tool that would allow companies to assess multiple levels of leadership, but without the enormous costs that come with existing programs. So they invited the New North area’s top 25 human resources and organizational development leaders to a half-day workshop to imagine a new leadership development assessment tool that would be valid, flexible, reasonably priced and effective.

“We said, ‘If we’re going to build a new tool, let’s build from the ground up designed by people working in the field, rather than by academics or business people wanting to make money,’” Wiltzius says.

The initial feedback reflected a longing for clients to not only establish their own leadership profiles, but to actually own and manage their data for whatever purposes they see fit. Programs currently on the market keep that data in their own vaults, and assessment profiles can cost upwards of $5,000 per employee.

The enVision.360 program, which costs $155 per participant, has no expensive fees or hidden training costs, which makes it extremely attractive to clients, Wiltzius says.

A second focus group was convened at Bemis Company in Neenah. Again, numerous professionals came together to refine their earlier work, and confirm the design architecture of the emerging assessment tool. It was then time for Harvey to introduce the tool to her executive leadership team at Miles Kimball. The 10-member team took the assessment in July.


Test run

“This is the highest-quality and all-around best tool we’ve ever used, and the cost was extremely reasonable. It is already feeding right into the business results,” says Harvey. “It has really helped us get on the same page with our competencies and work on overcoming the derailers.”

Harvey says that one of the derailers the team discovered was its tendency to avoid conflict. The tool helped them learn how to use conflict to overcome problems and grow stronger as a team. That awareness is an important component for Miles Kimball, known for its strong leadership and success.

“I am a firm believer in getting great feedback from colleagues and direct reports. If you don’t know what you don’t know, that limits your ability to enhance and improve your ability to grow,” says Harvey. “We’ve improved our open communication throughout the organization from the top down, and plan on rolling out the assessment tool to the entire organization in the months ahead.”


A global outlook

Last October, enVision.360 was introduced at the Wisconsin Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to a large audience. For Wise, working with local leaders has validated the need for something unique to the marketplace.

“We’re excited about the enthusiasm we’re receiving in New North and other parts of the United States, and we already have a fair number of organizations implementing enVision360,” Wise says.

Wiltzius agrees: “The most exciting thing for me has been a field-driven collaborative approach in the New North, and it has all the appearances of being an effective tool across industries.”