A company has identified a high-potential employee and is ready to accelerate that person into a leadership position. Now what?
Recent research from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) revealed the leadership development practices of various high-performance companies — those with the greatest five-year growth trends in customer satisfaction, market share, revenue and profit.
For organizations like industrial supply distributor Grainger Inc., accelerating employees into leadership positions is a common practice that provides the company with a larger pool of talent, said John Lawson, the firm’s senior director of learning and development.
“It’s important to be willing to make ‘big bets’ on top talent,” Lawson said. “Based on interviews with senior leaders, we’ve found that a key factor for each of their development was someone taking a risk in accelerating them based on demonstrated potential and competence.”
Here are five ways companies can accelerate leadership development.
1. Create a measurement tool to determine the effectiveness of leadership development initiatives.
After an employee has been labeled as having high potential, a company enters the beginning stages of developing his or her leadership skills. This can include reflecting on an employee’s growth and ability within a company.
Implementing frequently used human resources-related metrics, such as retention rates and time-to-hire and productivity, is one way companies can begin to track and compare an employee’s year-over-year development, according to the i4cp study. These measurement metrics hold particular clout in establishing a profile that reflects an employee’s ability.
“Never take just a current snapshot,” said Julia Howes, principal at Mercer, a human resources consultancy. “Where the value really comes is looking at the performance rating through time — taking leaders and high potentials and understanding what their career flows are within an organization.”
2. Screen individuals for the right high-potential development program.
While a company may have easily identified a top-performing employee who could meet the needs of a leadership position, the company has to place the employee on an appropriate leadership track.
By reflecting on a company’s existing leadership development plan, organizations can diversify how leaders are developed internally.
“One of the biggest hindrances to accelerating employees on the path to leadership was that succession plans don’t always reach down far enough in the organization,” i4cp senior research analyst Donna Parrey said in the study. “If potential successors have not been formally identified, employees whose leadership development has been accelerated could be top candidates.”
3. Guide high-potential employees to leadership readiness through performance coaching.
The path to leadership is not linear, and companies can implement a multitude of coaching strategies to develop their top talent. Companies should tailor coaching programs to an employee’s needs and personality.
For Tom Gartland, a regional president at car rental company Avis Budget Group, an effective coaching strategy means making sure his employees are developing the skills they need to be successful in a specific leadership role.
“Right now, I’m thinking about one of our very best account managers,” Gartland said. “She is in her late 20s and has been with us for five years. The next promotional decision we make for her can have the potential of impacting her career for 20 years. So we’ve got to get that right. We have got to be committed to her.”
4. Give high-potential employees a solid start with broad opportunities.
Companies can partner with a local university or design in-house seminars led by senior leaders to develop an employee’s business knowledge. Companies can also offer employees opportunities to lead a variety of projects to develop different skill sets.
“That concept of flexible pathways is the most successful in accelerating leadership,” Mercer’s Howes said. “Rather than having a hierarchical view of how to develop over time, think: What are the four or five skills of the top caliber? There are other roles in our organization that could help push them into developing a particular skill.”
5. Provide high-potential employees with high-profile stretch assignments.
The top differentiator between high-performance organizations and low-performance organizations in the study was an employee’s access to significant long-term projects, which proved to be a challenge for some employers.
“Insufficient access to such assignments was another factor that jeopardized the success of high-performance employee development programs,” Parrey said. “Organizations need to work across functions and borders to create opportunities for high-performance employees to stretch their skills.”
Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.