In the last month, two separate studies indicated there’s a widespread pipeline problem.
A survey conducted by Manpower Group’s Right Management talent and career management firm showed that only 13 percent of respondents believe they have a strong talent pipeline. Another study from Bersin by Deloitte showed most of the 2,500 respondents rank filling leadership gaps as their most urgent priority.
Part of the reason for this low confidence is historical, said Margaret-Ann Cole, Right Management’s senior vice president and consulting practice leader for Americas Northeast. The downturn in the economy eight years ago meant leadership development was among the first things companies cut for cost containment.
But now that businesses are recovering, companies have started seeing the impact their thriftiness has had on their leadership pipelines and succession plans. The study by Bersin by Deloitte released in May showed that this year companies are spending 14 percent more on leadership development than they did in 2013.
“Organizations recognize today that their succession pipelines are very weak, and there is an urgency right now to build those pipelines from the bottom up,” said Kim Lamoureux, vice president of leadership and succession research at Bersin by Deloitte.
Bersin’s study also recorded the average amount of money spent on leadership programs by level of employee and found that companies have started balancing the budget when it comes to how they distribute the money across training all levels of leaders, from emerging to executive.
“A lot of money is going into leadership development, but we still have a lot of work to do in regards to succession planning and management,” said Karen O’Leonard, Bersin’s vice president of benchmarking and analytics research.
Learning leaders shouldn’t be sitting back waiting for talent management to get on the problem, however. Lamoureux said managers at all levels will start being held accountable for making contributions to the talent pipeline, and that includes chief learning officers.
One of the places a CLO can start is by looking at who is targeted by programs — or, rather, who is left out. Cole said that a bell curve exists where the new hires and high potentials are the special cases of the workforce and receive most of the training, while middle-performers making up the majority are left out of the pipeline preparations. With the right attention, however, these employees can move along the curve to become assets for their companies.
Focusing on them doesn’t necessarily mean accounting for another brain to feed when budgeting learning programs, however. “‘The Great Middle’ programs for them won’t be as robust or expensive,” Cole said.
Price does not indicate value of training. Lamoureux said the cost of lower-level management learning can be far less expensive than that for senior-level or executives because it doesn’t have to be as tailored. For middle performers not yet in a leadership position, a one-program-fits-all can keep down cost while still delivering learning to many people.
Middle performers also can be less expensive to develop because so much of what they learn can be taught through culture-based experiences.
“You have to think about creating an environment where you will be able to build good leaders,” Cole said. “You want them engaged so they feel they’re connected to the mission of the organization, leading the organization and want to stay with that organization.”
One way to engage employees is to get their bosses involved. Cole said managers can be the best tools not only to keep employees learning how to be better leaders but also to retain them.
“The best leaders are homegrown, and part of the reason for that is people understand the culture,” Cole said. “You want the individual to think not only of what they can do for the organization but what the organization can do for them. When you get those two things aligned, that’s the perfect place for engagement.”
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