Executive development is about helping people succeed by providing them with the right skills at the right time. No matter how good managers are in their area of technical expertise, they need new skills and knowledge as they transition from a technical management role to senior leader. As learning and development professionals, the challenge is to identify employees’ strengths and develop their talent areas, aligning this with business goals and objectives.
There are many approaches to recognizing and developing leadership talent within organizations. These include assessment centers, competency and behavioral frameworks, personality assessments and 360-degree feedback. Often, the selection of assessment tools will vary by the organization and may be combined to help better identify talent. The choice of the most appropriate method is ultimately driven by type of skills being evaluated, cost and time available.
Taking this a step further, these approaches are often combined with executive coaching and detailed personal development plans that include intensive leadership and general management training. Through experience, organizations are finding that executive development works best when it’s aligned with the long-term goals of the business, is fully supported by senior management and is linked with the individual’s development and career goals.
According to a 2009 survey by Management Issues, an independent online resource that focuses on the leadership, management and people issues, 75 percent of first-time managers struggle to be effective in their new positions. Moreover, even experienced managers must be re-skilled at various points in their career as they transition to more senior roles.
Most learning and development specialists have experience with helping managers transition at key points in their careers. But far fewer can pinpoint the strong and weak areas during this process. This year, London Business School released data focused on executive development that examined more than 2,000 participants. The data, collected over several years, came from 360-degree surveys completed by managers, colleagues and direct reports rating the leadership and management capability of executives attending the Accelerated Development Program, an executive education program offered at London Business School. The surveys indicated managers often excel in the following areas:
• Demonstrating technical competency.
• Meeting deadlines.
• Analyzing problems.
• Demonstrating self-confidence.
• Gathering information.
• Encouraging new ideas and innovation.
Not surprisingly, this data also showed these same managers lacked some qualities seen as important in a senior role, including:
• Monitors and reviews people’s work regularly.
• Has explained to team members the goals of the business and basis for success.
• Is able to deal effectively with poor performers.
• Thinks strategically, identifying alternatives to ensure flexibility.
• Uses a variety of methods — including influence, persuasion and networks — to gain support for ideas or strategies.
• Understands the opinions and feelings of others.
The survey results suggest the way to impart to managers the skills needed for more senior roles is to link executive development to talent management. This can be achieved through implementing learning solutions that help mangers bridge skill gaps and transition into their new roles.
In implementing learning solutions, there are many approaches and providers to choose from. In some cases, it can be overwhelming when considering the various routes available. But breaking this process down into two steps makes it easier to digest.
First, see these providers as partners in learning and talent management. Understand their approach to learning design. Align the learning solution with measurable leadership behaviors and skills development. Gain the full support of senior management in the solution.
Second, recognize and aim for continuous learning versus event-based learning. This is achievable most often when managers combine their training with on-the-job experience through access to more demanding projects and roles, and management support through mentoring and coaching.
As learning and development professionals help prepare the future leaders of organizations, they must communicate to them the behaviors necessary to succeed. The role of the learning and development community is to help today’s up-and-coming leaders identify and fill these gaps in their knowledge and skill. This can be accomplished by embedding learning solutions that help these managers continuously grow and reach their full potential.
John Wills is the director of London Business School’s Accelerated Development Program. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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