Leadership development programs are essential to fill holes in a company’s talent portfolio and ensure a deep bench for critical positions. But who determines who participates in such programs? Most often it’s senior executives rather than learning and development professionals, according to a 2012 survey by AMA Enterprise, a division of the American Management Association that offers advisory services and tailored learning programs.
When asked who is responsible for identifying and developing high potentials, 55 percent of the survey’s 562 respondents cited senior executives, who were followed closely by managers and directors. Training and development staff was selected by just 11 percent of respondents, who consisted primarily of senior-level business, human resources and management professional contacts drawn from the AMA database.
Eric Hieger, director of professional services for AMA Enterprise, said this is due to senior executives’ experience and their insight into success factors. They’re involved with leaders at all levels on a day-to-day basis and most aware of attributes linked to future success. But while Hieger acknowledges this trend and its reasoning, he doesn’t believe senior executives should act alone.
“While senior executives may support and make the final decision about high potentials, they often have limited firsthand experience of all of the employees being considered,” he said. “To ideally address this, managers who have direct experience of those considered for high potential programs must represent them and be included in the evaluation process.”
Hieger believes line managers should help senior executives and learning and development professionals define and create a balanced leadership development system for an entire company. He proposes that the selection criteria to be eligible for high potential programs be driven first by qualification criteria, supported by nomination of a sponsoring manager. After all the possible candidates are identified within a company’s division, the pool can be evaluated by forming a talent review council. This council should be composed of cross-functional and cross-level managers, all of whom have direct experience with the candidates and have collected perceptions of others in the organization — peers and internal and external customers. It is this council that can help to create a collaborative environment where managers and leaders can all weigh in on the relative strengths of each person being considered.
“This helps to ensure an environment that encourages transparency, inclusion and ultimately consensus on those employees identified as high potential and given opportunities unique to the status,” Hieger said.
To identify candidates, Hieger said that beyond looking for superior performance and contribution, companies should look for employees who are purpose and goal driven and passionate, and who need to feel challenged and that they’ve accomplished something. Candidates most likely to succeed are forward leaning, have a vision for themselves and the organization, and express pride in their contributions and others’ success.
“When people’s jobs align with their motivators, their job satisfaction increases dramatically,” said Shawn Kent Hayashi, author of Conversations for Creating Star Performers. “The result is invigorated job performance that leads to professional development.”
According to Hayashi, facilitating high potentials’ development is necessary to move an organization forward. Toward that end, coaching, learning courses and development assignments should tie into an organization’s competency model, which is set in alignment with an organization’s strategic goals.
Hayashi said, “When we understand the strategy plan for where the organization intends to go, we can step back and ask ourselves, ‘What are the skills and competencies that are going to enable us to get there? Who can we prepare to have those skills?’”
Hieger believes it is senior executives’ ability to answer that question that has made them the top contenders in spotting high potentials for development programs.
“When we’re selecting high potentials or identifying leaders we expect to be groomed for the future, it’s incumbent upon the people who currently hold leadership positions to have a vision of where they believe the business is going and what it’s going to require in the next three [to] five years,” he said.
“The concept of high potential is to lead people through a development process to prepare them for what may be a completely different role and set of responsibilities; one that focuses on the future of the business and not necessarily their knowledge or technical expertise. Senior executives approve these candidates because they have a broad view of the organization. At the same time, selecting the right candidates is best done from a diversity of voices and perspectives.”
Ladan Nikravan is an associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@CLOmedia.com.