Survey: Leadership Development Boosts Bottom Line

A report from Ascend2 and the Arbinger Institute recommends investments in staff culture to increase their sense of belonging.

A new survey found that organizations are more successful when they make extensive commitments to improving culture through leadership development and DEI initiatives.

Creating a High-Performance Culture: The Role of Company Culture in Driving Success, released earlier this month by Ascend2 and the Arbinger Institute, is based on a survey of 302 U.S. organization leaders conducted in March 2023. The report found that those who said they have “very successful” cultures have experienced larger revenue increases. When it comes to bettering that culture, a slight majority of respondents (52 percent) credit leadership-development programs for the improvement. 

But a successful leadership program involves more than just providing some off-the-shelf training tools, said Arbinger Institute Chief Marketing Officer Lisa Sharapata.

“Most leadership-development programs are simply telling leaders what to do, or trying to teach them new habits without changing anything else,” she said. “You must shift their thinking—help them understand why they need to change. Making the desire to change their own.”

Most leadership-development programs are simply telling leaders what to do, or trying to teach them new habits without changing anything else.

Lisa Sharapata, Arbinger Institute

The report recommends that organizations prioritize changing the organizational mindset, which Sharapata described as “the mental attitude that determines how you will interpret and respond to situations.” While only 32 percent of the organizations surveyed focus on mindset in their leadership-development programs, those that do enjoy substantial benefits. “Those organizations that focus on mindset are two times more likely to have employees that feel like they’re doing meaningful work,” she said. “And we know that employees feeling valued is a critical component of a successful company culture.”

The report also highlights some of the benefits of DEI programs, especially retention. According to the survey, 63 percent of organizations that prioritize DEI initiatives have employee retention rates of 60 percent or higher, and are more than twice as likely to see significant revenue increases. 

However, engagement in DEI efforts are relatively modest. According to the survey, 55 percent of organizations say they prioritize DEI “a great deal.”

“Part of the reason so many organizations haven’t implemented a DEI program might be that they don’t know where to start,” Sharapata said. “In our research, we found that only 30 percent of senior leaders feel that employees at their organization seek to understand their impact on others, which is foundational for relationship-building and creating an inclusive environment.”

To gauge the success of their efforts, the survey recommends that organizations track progress around engagement, retention, satisfaction, leadership development, and productivity. But Sharapata cautioned organizations to prioritize employee well-being ahead of productivity, because the first has a direct impact on the latter. 

“A true high-performance culture is one where employees feel motivated, accountable, collaborative, are aware of their impact on others, and feel a sense of belonging,” she said. “Focusing on those things first is when you really get the outputs leaders want.”


Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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