For growing organizations with long-term strategic goals, implementing a development program to create smart, competent leaders probably seems like a no-brainer. Growing and developing leaders within the company can reduce employee turnover, create an internal talent pool, and build institutional knowledge that translates into long-term growth.
But when it comes to starting a leadership development program, where does a company begin? What should the company focus on? Who should participate?
Creating a leadership development program doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Here are six best practices to guide you as you begin:
1.Tie Your Leadership Development Initiatives to Long-Term Strategic Goals
The best results of any initiative come when you start with the end in mind. For a leadership development program, the “end” should include long-term strategic goals. Where do you want your company to be in five years? Ten years? Longer? What kind of leaders will you need to reach those goals?
Once you know your long-term strategic goals, you can consider how to include leadership development in those goals. Work backward from the desired results to arrive at a place that will give you the most impact for your efforts.
2.Enlist the Support of Senior Leadership
Leadership development initiatives have a much greater chance of success when senior leaders invest highly in the success of the programs. But executives are often leery of the investment required to start a leadership development program; one McKinsey survey found that only 11% of executives strongly agreed that leadership development initiatives achieve and sustain desired results.
Start by finding a champion in senior leadership who can offer input and feedback for developing others, and consider forming a steering committee with senior leadership to guide your efforts. Make the case for developing leaders across the organization by tying the development program to obstacles the company is trying to solve. By concretely connecting the leadership development program to business objectives, you’ll establish a way to measure impact and results and make a strong case for the program's value.
Once you’ve run your first leadership development initiative, be prepared to measure results against long-term goals and report those back to senior leaders.
3. Emphasize “Development,” Not Training
While there is a time and place for a learning experience that disseminates information, the people in your leadership development program should be undergoing stretch assignments and practicing their competencies in real-world situations and scenarios. Leaders must learn to think through obstacles and arrive at solutions independently or in collaboration with other leaders. We recommend a 70-20-10 split—70% of learning should be experiential, 20% relationship, and 10% formal.
In addition, tie development to personal goals and assessments. Each person in your development program should have an Individual Action Plan designed with the help of a manager or boss who can help tie development initiatives to growth opportunities.
4.Expand Development to Everyone
Many leadership development programs are biased toward developing the people who need the least amount of development—those who are already high performers with excellent leadership skills. But in an ongoing war for talent, companies need to look across the entire organizational landscape to find people with untapped potential. Offering development opportunities to everyone can improve the leadership pipeline, make up for incoming disparities, and improve retention. One survey found that employees with development opportunities are 15% more engaged in their jobs.
5.Include Foundational Skills
Some of your best future leaders may need help developing foundational management skills, such as delegating, interviewing, and managing conflict. By capturing your early-career employees and helping them develop these foundational skills, you’ll create an internal pool of competent managers and show those employees that they have a future with your company.
Many of these foundational skills can be taught at little to no cost to the company while they reap long-term rewards. Look for the “low-hanging fruit” of employee development and include these efforts as part of your leadership development.
6.Use a Cohort Model
A cohort model is a very effective way to rapidly upskill leaders in multiple areas. By giving a group of leaders a project, challenge, or real-world scenario to address together, companies can quickly train high-potential people on hard skills, such as finance and strategy, and encourage the development of soft skills, such as collaboration and conflict resolution.
Your cohort model should include a combination of action learning, experimentation, application, and any appropriate hard skills training. The projects for your cohort can be chosen by senior leaders or the cohort itself. Some cohorts select projects directly relevant to their roles in the company. A cross-functional group may instead work on a new product or market expansion. Ideally, the cohort’s work should develop the individuals and produce results for the company.
Leadership development programs are vital to any organization that wants to achieve long-term strategic results. When companies spend time creating a solid pool of current and future leaders, their efforts will translate into better employee engagement and retention, improved customer experience, and a more robust bottom line.
- What is one way you can start developing your team today without a formal program?
- Is there one person on your team who shows untapped potential? Can you help that person develop some foundational skills?
- Could a formal leadership development initiative help achieve one of your long-term strategic goals?