I am encouraged by the number and the quality of the discussions that I am having with top executives about "how" to create a more effective leadership development culture. Moving beyond the "why" to the "how" is definitely progress in the right direction.
There are a number of common themes and pain points that I hear and observe in organizations seeking to improve in this area:
- A recognition on the part of top management that realizing sustained growth over a period of time will require a consistent infusion of new talent, especially in leadership.
- The recognition that current ad hoc and silo approaches to leadership development have not worked, and in some cases have resulted in misfires, misplacements and damage to the business.
- Frustration on the part of the CEO over the lack of results on this topic from his or her senior leadership team. (Note: this is often representative of a bigger communication, collaboration, team, trust issue than just leadership development.)
- Lack of clarity on how to get started on improving leadership development effectiveness.
My Suggestions: The First Eight Steps to Mastering the Leadership Development Dance:
1. Moving from poor to good or great at leadership development will take time and attention. Be realistic in setting your expectations, as this is an evolutionary process. If necessary, consider qualified outside counsel to help you structure your program and to help keep the team on track.
2. Leadership development is the CEO's priority...but everyone's job. Identify leadership development as a strategic priority with your leadership team and develop your collective thoughts on this topic just as you would a potential new product development or a prospective acquisition. It is imperative that the senior leadership team view this effort not as a task to be completed, but as an on-going process for all leaders at all levels.
3. Ensure that accountability for leadership development is spread across the leadership team...not just deposited in HR's lap. (Ram Charan, writing in Leaders at All Levels, suggests making HR the Trustee of leadership development, not the sole responsible party. I like Ram's approach and his book is filled with great ideas for any leadership team moving down this path.) Accountability means ensuring that your senior leaders are aligned around leadership development objectives with clear performance metrics and compensation incentives.
4. Establish a baseline for current practices. A good adviser will be able to help you identify and evaluate your current performance against key best practices. The best practices are intuitive and focus on evaluating the existence and maturity of activities for identifying talent, providing developmental opportunities, evaluating progress and performance, delivering timely, candid feedback etc. This baseline will help you monitor and reevaluate your organization's progress over time.
5. Establish your collective (not silo or functional) criteria for the type of leaders and the type of talent you expect to need in the future. Easy to write...but a thought-provoking and challenging assignment. Note: you will need to re-evaluate your criteria over time based on changing forces and strategies.
6. Based on your criteria, the leadership team will need to parse through all available talent to assess needs, gaps and the depth and breadth of the current talent pool. Again, easy to describe, but a challenging task to complete.
7. Create developmental assignments for existing high-potential talent and begin the process of filling gaps through external recruiting. Ensure that the senior leaders understand and act on their role as mentors, coaches and shepherds of the talent development process.
8. Constantly evaluate progress and performance and constantly reassess the performance of your high potential individuals. You will need to redefine your criteria for evaluating progress based on how individuals perform in various roles, and you should definitely re-evaluate your talent pool based on the results. A high potential at one level may struggle at another, and vice versa.
The Bottom-line for Now
With the intent of being redundant the steps above are easy to write and very challenging to implement. There is no silver bullet for creating an effective leadership culture, but there is a straightforward formula: focus, time and discipline. And of course, practice, practice and more practice. How well does your senior team dance when it comes to leadership development?