As many of my clients look ahead to the tsunami of leaders that will be leaving their organizations in the coming years, a big question I often get asked is, ‘Where do we start?” My clichéd answer is, “At the top!” However, I don’t just mean that succession management should focus on the top of the house. I use that trite answer to emphasize that there is some key work that needs to be completed by top executives if any leadership development initiative is to have an impact.
Take Ownership. Developing leaders for the future should not be left to HR alone, though that function plays a key role. Leadership Development should be owned by the top team and included in key goals and objectives that are cascaded down the organization.
Build the Business Case. The workforce planning numbers are compelling enough but the investment in development should be framed like any business investment. What specific results do you expect to see from an investment in leadership talent? What is the business intent? What resources are needed and how will the return on the investment be tracked?
Understand Effective Development. We know what it takes to develop effective leaders at all levels. (See my free whitepapers Fixing Leadership Development or Leadership Development Redefined) Despite this knowledge, billions are wasted every year on development that doesn’t work. Much of the development waste comes from execs deciding not only why development is needed by also dictating who, what, when, why and how. This is where HR needs to step up and clearly outline the keys to any development effort.
Know What Success Looks Like. Part of what we know about what makes development effective is that it should be based on a clear definition of the competencies needed for success, given the challenges and opportunities facing a business. (See The Elegance Of Competencies). Top leaders should be involved in developing the target competencies. They should also understand their own strengths and weaknesses on these skills and model effective development themselves.