Future-Forward Talent Management: How to Develop Tomorrow’s Leadership Team

February 13, 2020 at 9:33 pm
Group of colleagues listening to a presentation.

Tomorrow’s leaders need help to learn how to step into those roles.

Leadership development is important for companies as a generation of Baby Boomers retires and new leaders are needed to take their place. The youngest members of the Baby Boom generation are now turning 60, so the next decade will be critical in developing a leadership team that can take a company into the future successfully.

Leadership continues to be essential to top-performing companies, with up to a 19 percent increase in performance for companies with top-tier leaders. However, the problems many companies have with leadership development are systemic and leave them ill-equipped to take advantage of these gains.

Unfortunately, these systemic problems cannot be satisfactorily solved by sending employees off-site for leadership training. While training that is outside of the system might seem more effective, many of these programs are too theoretical and fail to give practical ways of making the system function better. In too many cases, problems remain and leadership remains hampered with little improvement.

What Can Companies Do?

Developing tomorrow’s leadership team will take intentional effort and modern resources, resources that in many cases didn’t even exist when Baby Boomers entered the job market three or four decades ago. There is much that companies can do in-house to develop leaders that will meet their future needs in an individualized and customized way.

It’s important that top executive company leadership has identified leadership development goals for any future team and that future leaders understand that the goals presented to them have backing all the way up the chain. Getting input from current leaders and from those who will be trained should give executives a well-rounded view of what the needs are.

Assessments Can Help

A good first step would be to use assessments to identify which team members have the highest leadership potential and where leadership skill deficits might exist. You really can’t know what you’re dealing with until you assess the current situation, and using leadership assessments is an objective way to make those judgments.

While employees are often well-intentioned, they usually can’t provide the most helpful input when asked directly by upper management. Besides being more objective, assessments can also save time and provide standardized, quantifiable data for existing leadership teams.

Components of an Effective Plan

There are several main components companies can implement to ensure success when establishing a leadership training program. Once leadership candidates have been identified through assessments, talent management can be adjusted to provide the kind of challenges needed to grow leaders.

  • Stretching Experiences

Managers should be trained to rotate future leaders through a number of different jobs where possible so that leadership candidates have experience in as many different contexts as possible. In addition, identified future leaders should have carefully crafted “stretching” experiences integrated into their jobs so that they become comfortable with challenges and can experience continual growth.

  • Feedback and Evaluation

Feedback and evaluation are other important components of any leadership development plan and must be handled with care. Employees need frequent feedback and evaluation to understand how they are handling the challenges before them. It is important to handle feedback and evaluation in a constructive way that will encourage growth rather than stifle it out of fear of failure.

Failure is just as important to leadership development as success, but a punitive evaluation and feedback process will shut down the ability to learn from failure and set up a situation where people just try to fake success no matter what actually happens. Giving future leaders the freedom to fail without worry about their jobs or advancement possibilities is the only way to succeed in developing their skills.

That being said, it’s also important to weed out those who may have been identified as future leaders, but that just aren’t working out in practice. Not everyone identified as a future leader will become one.

  • Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and coaching programs are crucial to leadership development. There is no better way to grow new leaders than to employ existing leaders to share their experience with them and pass on valuable information and skills. Your leadership should not only identify future leaders, but should also identify who is likely to retire in the near future and what skills they possess that need to be shared with those being trained as future leaders.

While most mentoring and coaching programs pair senior employees with newer ones, some will pair future leaders with mentors at other companies, particularly if there is a desire to emulate another business model or if there is no one at your own company in a similar position.

Two people having a conversation in front of a laptop.

Mentoring programs are one way for senior employees to pass their information and skills on to tomorrow’s leaders.

Best Practices in Leadership Development

Having the right components is one aspect of a successful leadership development program, but how you implement and administer these components is just as important. Here are some best practices to follow as you work to develop tomorrow’s leaders today.

  • Use Different Teaching Styles

Any time you teach information, it’s important to take different learning styles into account. Some learn better by seeing information, while others need to hear it or experience it themselves. Executive leadership can take the lead in training mentors and managers to be sensitive to different styles and to use them regularly.

While classroom training can be important, most learning about leadership will come from real-world experiences like those described above, which should account for most of your leadership training. Once you have buy-in from the future leaders you have identified, they will be eager to learn on the job even when they balk at spending precious hours and days in a classroom learning theories.

  • Use Available Tools and Technology Wisely

Using available technology and tools can make leadership development more accessible. When you do have to provide classroom material on leadership, technology can allow you to bring the very best speakers and teachers to them through the use of podcasts or online learning modules so that a high level of interest will be maintained and quality material will be communicated.

  • Craft a strong succession plan

It doesn’t make sense to undertake a time-consuming and expensive endeavor like leadership development without the company also having a succession plan in place. Having a plan for transitioning to new leadership and phasing out the old not only helps with retention and productivity, but it also gives those being trained and developed into leaders a reason for doing so.

Evaluating Your Process

It’s important to regularly evaluate your leadership development process to find out what is working well and what needs improvement. Leadership assessments can once again be helpful at the evaluation stage because they provide data that can be analyzed and used to measure progress as training takes place over time.

It’s important to get feedback from both your senior staff/mentors and your leaders-in-training about how they view the process and whether it is working for them. After a thorough evaluation that includes assessments and open feedback, adjustments may need to be made to program components or best practices to achieve maximum effectiveness.

Feedback doesn’t only mean complaints or negative comments. Mentors, trainers, and participants may all have ideas and suggestions for how a leadership development program could be streamlined, pumped up, or otherwise improved. Part of leadership development includes learning how to identify areas for improvement and implement them, so these suggestions may get more numerous and better as time goes on.

Instead of being a linear process that has a defined beginning, middle, and end, leadership development that includes an evaluation component will close the circle and become a cycle that never really ends. Once an evaluation is complete, the cycle just begins again with improvements being incorporated into the program.

Having a leadership development cycle bolstered by assessments will help your company develop the leaders it needs when it needs them. External searches may still be needed for particular needs that can’t be filled internally, but putting leaders in place from within has many advantages.

Hiring and training new employees is currently an arduous and expensive process that may be just as likely to fail as to succeed. Being able to hold onto current employees through training and development opportunities will circumvent many of these expenses and allow your company to conserve more of its internal resources.

Narish International uses top assessments to develop tomorrow’s leaders and help companies build higher-performing teams.