The most successful people are those who take a long-term view. Instead of embracing instant gratification, they always consider the big picture.
The same philosophy should be adopted in business. Developing the next generation of leaders cannot happen overnight. Human resources professionals need to look at implementing a long-term strategy to grow and develop the leaders of the future.
Many HR professionals, however, approach leadership development with short-sightedness. While their instincts are correct that people are a vital part of the process, they may be jumping the gun. Before they decide who they will need, company leaders should first determine what they will need.
The first questions talent professionals should ask when looking to develop leaders should focus on the business. What will the organization look like down the road? How will the overall business strategy evolve? Will the organization be going public? Will it develop a new business line?
Once leaders have a vision of what the company will look like, they can develop a vision for their next-generation leaders. When executives know their direction, they can shift the focus to locating the skills, qualifications and experience of the people who will get them there.
For example, an organization that is looking to go public soon may need a leader who is entrepreneurial, dynamic and charismatic. This person’s qualifications would not likely be a good match, however, for a public company that needs to stay on course. While this example may be simplistic, it illustrates the importance of matching the leader’s experience to the path of company growth.
This strategy of matching leadership to the company’s needs is not just for the executive suite. As human resource professionals look forward, they should keep the qualifications of their future leaders in mind as they fill department head and manager positions.
In addition to evolving competency models, Carolyn Fischer, vice president for global talent management at retailer TJX Cos., said “codify the cultural factors that uniquely define the organization as you assess, hire and develop talent and accelerate high-potential talent development.”
Once the organization has determined what it will be and the type of leaders it needs to reach those goals, it is then time to look at its people. Who are the high potentials? What are the developmental needs necessary to meet objectives? How can the future stars flex their leadership muscles?
This process shouldn’t occur with just a chosen few. Succession plans only work if there are back-up players to pick up the slack if a leader leaves. Development strategies should encompass a group of people.
Approaches to development can range from targeted training to stretch assignments to lateral transfers. For example, some global companies require leaders to accept an overseas position on a short-term basis to gain some international perspective and experience. Development strategies should be focused and individualized to cultivate the type of leaders who will advance the business.
Typically, future leader identification is shrouded in secrecy. Human resources professionals are worried that if they let their high potentials know they are being put on a leadership track, it could alter the balance of power in the relationship or could lead to changes in employees’ behavior at work. Worse yet, leaders fear that they may groom an employee for greatness only to find out that the position intended for that person never materializes.
Having a conversation with the organization’s future stars helps to set expectations and can encourage buy-in from employees at the start of the development process. Employees can also weigh in on what they want for their careers and from the organization, so that a shared vision can develop and a mutually beneficial arrangement can be reached.
Transparency in the process can better serve the organization and the individual. If an employee knows what the position is, he or she can have a hand in creating it.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.