Leadership Development

Growing Long-Term Leaders at Every Level

Business Growth Demands Multi-level Leadership Development Strategies
— By Dave DeSouza

Great leaders at the top of the house are only as effective as their foundations. Companies with poor internal leadership pipelines depend on external talent markets to get what they need, often at an extreme cost and dubious cultural fit. Investing in effective multi-level talent development tools shields you from talent wars in the open market and gives your company an edge over the competition.

Fortunately, building great talent pipelines isn’t rocket science. With the proper long-term planning measures, transition coaching for growing leaders, and thoughtful choices in talent grooming, your firm can have leaders coming out of the woodwork to deliver results today and significant growth potential for tomorrow.

Deepening The Talent Pool
A key benefit of working to build leaders at all levels is deepening your talent pool. Often, HR managers are looking at the same handful of names for every open position in the firm, creating a serious crisis to accompany each vacancy.

Early assessment requires you to look at what leadership skills are required at each level, and what technical skills have to accompany those interpersonal abilities. You don’t have to build the next CEO with each new hire – but you can build an effective front line manager, and then a divisional leader. These smaller steps build confidence with your talent, which in turn gives them experience and competence they can use at the next level. Instead of untested workers, you quickly have a pool of known performers ready and looking for their next leadership challenges.

These mini-milestones are critical for nurturing tomorrow’s superstars. Workers in hot emerging markets want to feel like they are advancing, but they can be burned out early on if every new hire is pressured to be a superstar CEO straight out of the gate. By working to create leadership opportunities and recognizing leadership abilities from the frontline to the C-suite, you provide a ‘safe’ environment for talent growth and build loyalty to talent management programs.

Creating a Long-term Plan for Your Talent Pipeline
You can’t afford to be haphazard with your talent pool’s futures – you need to be strategic and deliberate with your long-term planning for each member of your talent pipeline. This requires the HR benchwork and backend work many organizations neglect: job descriptions, succession planning, and performance assessment.

All three of these items are work some like to think of as “one and done” events or boring “administrative” HR to be avoided. Yes, it can be time consuming, but regular updates and ongoing attention to these tasks helps you see where things are changing in terms of the real needs of each job and anticipate where leadership gaps are emerging due to retirements, promotions, or exits. Couple that with ongoing performance management discussions, and you have a ripe framework for planning not just tomorrow’s move, but next year’s possibilities.

It adds up to a more robust long-term plan for your talent pipeline and more active human capital management from all divisions. Tightening the framework around talent may seem like a simplistic solution to talent management issues, but many organizations are in denial about the real gaps they have in their basic processes. It’s trendy to talk about being “strategic” or developing your firm’s “vision” for HR, but the hard facts are that less than half of all firms worldwide have any sort of succession planning in place, and thinly staffed organizations increasingly avoid annual performance reviews.

Attending diligently to these matters impresses on employees that your organization is attentive and “with it” when it comes to developing career paths and future possibilities. If you can’t manage basic human capital processes, how can they possibly trust you with their own growth and development?

When your firm invests in critical baseline functions, you communicate that there are no dead ends and that stasis is not acceptable. Instead, well-managed growth and easily facilitated expansion of roles is possible (and probable) for talent who exceed performance standards on the job, a message workers hear loud and clear when considering their own career goals.

Managing Leadership Transitions
Each move up the ladder comes with its own turns and nuances. Promoting talent to the next level and then walking away often results in HR emergencies that need extensive cleaning up. It could all be avoided by better managing leadership transitions.

A solid start on transition management is onboarding for new roles. Provide newly promoted leaders with a 90 day plan to ensure they meet the key players at their new level, connect with employees across locations, and complete any additional training needed for the job. Once onboarding has been completed, periodic follow up meetings with an HR partner on how the role is going can help eliminate roadblocks to success and keep emerging leaders from burning or crashing out of their expanded roles. Though it is a greater investment in each player, it helps eliminate lost talent and ensure a smooth flow down the talent pipeline.

Learning from Successful Firms
One firm already putting all the right pieces together is ADP. Despite a global footprint, the company has built succession planning and development systems for each level of the organization. It includes succession planning for diverse positions, and makes ongoing talent development a part of each employee’s role.

The net result is more ready-now talent to execute against its objectives. ADP is growing rapidly in its key markets, and was named one of the 40 Best Companies for Leaders by Chief Executive magazine for 2012. This builds on its 2011 recognition as one of the top 20 companies in Training’s "Top 125" list of effective firms.

Reaping The Benefits of More Ready-now Talent
Could your firm benefit from leaders ready to deliver faster? An affirmative answer requires the hard investment of time and effort to grow leaders right down to the baseline. It can’t be a last minute plan or a one-off strategy – to grow leaders at every level, the support must be there.

Employees can see through hollow plans, and they reward organizations with the right systems in place with an unbeatable edge in the marketplace. By putting work into the foundations of your talent pool, coaching transitioning leaders, and learning from the successes of firms that have already made the investment, your company can reap the rewards of more ready-now talent and a stronger talent pipeline for years to come.