Developing a group of effective diverse leaders from the bottom up is one strategy for keeping the leadership pipeline filled. Incorporating leadership development into the talent management process is an ideal way to reach goals.
— By Joseph Warren
Managers at all levels are either new hires or promoted employees. A certain amount of new hires is good for the company. Hiring from within offers opportunities to increase diversity at the management level through equal opportunity, if the workforce is diverse, and inject new perspectives, along with desired experience and skills. Always hiring from the outside is not a good idea because it prevents high-potential employees from obtaining leadership positions. Added to this is the fact that a highly competitive labor market can leave a company scrambling to compete for top leadership talent.
One solution is to integrate leadership development into the talent management process. This approach means the process recognizes leadership potential in employees at all levels and identifies development opportunities for career advancement. A seamless development experience can keep the leadership pipeline filled, while also giving employees unbiased opportunities.
Continuity of Leadership Supply
Companies need continuity of leadership in order to avoid developing gaps in skills and competencies. A successful leadership pipeline is always filled, and one of the best ways to accomplish this goal is to develop emerging talent at all business levels.
The leaders developed from within are more likely to stay with the organization because the business meets their career ambitions. This is a critical advantage given the intense competition for experienced managers in the labor market. The organization benefits by developing people that it already knows fit the organization's culture. Identifying leadership potential in employees also allows time for cultivating the competencies that are needed now and in the future. This is a model for combining leadership succession with leadership development.
There are more advantages accrued to a business that integrates leadership development into talent management processes. One of the top advantages, beyond filling the leadership pipeline, is that leaders are developed at all levels of the organization, strengthening the company's ability to meet strategic goals. Another advantage concerns the multigenerational characteristic of the workforce.
Millennials are already the largest segment of the workforce, and in another decade, will make up 75 percent of the workforce. They will be running today's companies in the near future.
Developing the younger members of the workforce as leaders not only prepares them for future senior positions. It also develops the people who best understand the millennial way of thinking and style of communication. The developing leaders become the links between the younger and older generations, something every organization needs as baby boomers in charge struggle to engage millennials while the others retire in record numbers.
Making it Happen
So how do companies integrate leadership development into the talent management processes? One way is to assess people in a way designed to identify people who behave as leaders, even if they do not manage others. Instead of focusing only on performance, the assessments consider leadership qualities.
Potential leaders have patterns of behavior that include the ability to develop productive relationships with coworkers and the managers to whom they report. High-potential employees also show improvement over time as they gain experience. High-potential future leaders are not necessarily the top job performers. The point is to identify people who have the potential to develop critical networks and make decisions that support organizational goals, and possess the drive to continually learn. The last quality is especially important in the incredibly dynamic business environment in which conditions regularly change.
One of the mistakes to avoid though is expecting too much of people who are still learning and gaining experience. The managers using the assessments as a guide for identifying and developing potential leaders must recognize that people make mistakes. The key is whether the person learns from the mistake and can apply the learning. This is a good example of the difference between evaluating performance and assessing leadership potential.
It is important to develop real-world opportunities that enable people to gain experience.
In today's organization, managers at levels below senior management assume responsibility for the leadership development process. It used to be the responsibility of Human Resources professionals and other experts, but frontline managers know better than anyone who is showing real-world leadership potential. They become coaches and mentors who empower talent through feedback. Of course, development opportunities should focus on strengthening the desired knowledge and competencies, meaning the feedback is relevant to improving leadership skills.
There are different ways to build real-world development opportunities into the talent management process.
One is to let an employee manage a project or head a team. Some companies use gaming that presents real-world business challenges and encourages employees to build their problem solving skills.
Encouraging interactions between employees and other internal and external stakeholders is another aspect of effective leadership development opportunities. Advanced technology offers platforms that provide immersive learning and rapid feedback, while also giving managers insights into the users skills development needs.
Gaming offers another advantage. Millennials grew up learning via technology and have come to expect connectivity with others and rapid feedback. Software simulations of real-world scenarios offer everything that digital natives expect – interactivity, self-paced learning, transparency and technology. Opportunities to use development platforms can be offered to all employees, enabling the company to identify high-potential leaders who might otherwise be overlooked. The software can present increasingly difficult challenges, like identifying and managing strategic opportunities.
Combining on-the-job and online leadership development opportunities and then integrating the opportunities into the talent management process develop a culture of learning. This type of culture is needed in order to empower people to perform at their highest level.
Traditionally, leadership development has focused on people at higher management levels. A more effective approach identifies internal candidates at all levels who could assume key leadership roles and then gives them the opportunities to develop their leadership abilities.
Developing diverse leaders internally as an element of the talent management process is a key strategy for retaining the best employees who can take the organization forward in a dynamic business environment.