Identifying and supporting future leaders Making the most of high-potential employees
By Gary Fehr
The most pressing challenge for organizations in Canada and around the globe is ensuring they have the right talent with the right skills able to do the right job. The vital issue, then, is the question of leadership development. How can managers ensure they are able to build the capabilities of employees to take over leadership positions at all levels and that they have leaders who can translate strategy into action? How can they build a systematic process where they can identify and strengthen talent to support organizational growth?
Our research shows that many workplaces are struggling with these questions. Few organizations feel they have an adequate management pipeline to fill all their needs, and many struggle with the question of how to groom and grow talent at all levels so they are able to assume leadership positions with the skills and abilities needed to create positive action.
What skills are most important for leaders? Currently, organizations need leaders who are able to make smart decisions in increasingly complex environments. Technology and “flatter” organizational structures are making it more important than ever to learn how to foster collaboration and to work efficiently across the organization – not just in silos – to deal with people who aren’t direct reports, by mastering the art of influence. And leaders need to be able to translate and execute strategy so everyone understands his or her role and how it contributes to the achievement of overall goals.
DETERMINE ESSENTIAL LEADERSHIP SKILLS
The critical first step for organizations is to determine the essential skills needed to move the company forward. What is the strategy and what are the qualities required to make that strategy happen? For example, a technology company may determine it needs to take a more consultative approach to selling, which essentially means transforming the sales force from product pushers to partners who are able to understand and discuss customers’ problems and needs.
The most effective method for pinpointing which people have the necessary skills is through a rigorous series of psychometric, behavioural and other assessments. It is also essential for creating development plans tailored to the individual. Rarely will one size fit all. Such plans should address both the skills needed immediately and those likely to be required in the future.
INVEST IN HIGH-POTENTIAL, HIGH-VALUE TALENT
The latter approach requires a systematic way to identify high-potential talent. Unfortunately, many organizations think they have a plan in place, but are actually relying on anecdotal information rather than analytical analysis.
BUILD MANAGEMENT PIPELINES BY INVESTING IN SUCCESSION MANAGEMENT
Organizations must address the matter of succession by developing leaders with an eye toward grooming those able to assume positions at the top. It begins with assessment and should be followed by intensive coaching and development to address strengths and skill gaps. Such a process benefits the employee and the entire organization, even in cases when the employee doesn’t make it to a senior leadership position.
MEASURING OUTCOMES OF TALENT INVESTMENTS
Perhaps the greatest challenge facing HR professionals in their efforts to create a systematic management pipeline is the matter of measurement. Increasingly, organizations looking for a clear return on investment demand clear metrics demonstrating the effectiveness of leadership programs. Providing such evidence is also part and parcel of HR professionals’ increasing role as trusted partners with other business leaders in the organization.
Demonstrating a direct link between talent management initiatives and bottom-line results such as increased profitability is a challenge. But there are other metrics, such as reduced hiring costs or how quickly it takes high-potential candidates to be promoted, that can be used to measure how well talent programs contribute to key business drivers.
With the right talent management strategy in place, organizations can be confident they will have the right people in the right jobs able to meet the challenges of today’s uncertain climate. Gary Fehr is vice-president of client services at Right Management.