Want Your Business to Thrive? Focus on Developing Your People
By Ulf Schneider
February 21, 2017
If you want to become the CEO, you need to learn all the business functions at your company.
That’s according to a recent New York Times article that highlighted research showing that longevity in a single area – such as finance, marketing, or operations – isn’t enough to get you to the top of your company, or another.
This reflects changing corporate values and presents a significant challenge for those of us responsible for talent development.
The first priority of any business is taking care of business: Quality of goods, services, and attention to clients must always remain top of mind.
But if the success of the business depends on its people and we want to provide professional growth opportunities and broad experience, how do we accomplish that while still taking care of business and benefiting the company?
What can we do to provide exposure and learning opportunities across a company while maintaining quality, without creating undue stress and chaos at a functional level?
The Opportunity to Develop Talent Is Also the Challenge
It is a challenge to let a talented and successful employee move into a new business area. In fact, it can cost as much as training someone new. Those employees, while successful in their previous roles, and willing to learn and grow, need more time and attention from their supervisor, at least temporarily, compared to appoint an experienced person for this position. If that person has moved to an unfamiliar functional area to grow her skills, the effect is multiplied, i.e. it is not only helpful for this particular employee, but for the whole organization since many will benefit from the actions and decisions which will be based on a broader perspective and understanding.
I believe that one solution lies in creating a program in which positions are earmarked for talent development. I would start by identifying the skills and experience in each functional area that a person would need to fulfill a leadership position.Then identify or create jobs in which a promising candidate for leadership could learn and gain that experience.Those jobs would constitute a program for advancement, a list of positions for internal candidates to rotate through on their way to leadership.Only the most promising would qualify.
In creating the program, I would consult with supervisors about possible pitfalls and difficulties inherent in learning the job.By anticipating them, we could design training and support to make the process easier, both for the job candidate and the supervisor.
In a global company such as the one I work for, it would also be important to look for jobs in different geographic regions.Learning the local cultures and the inherent differences and difficulties in each would give future leaders a more complete picture of how the pieces fit together.That global perspective would serve both the individual and the corporation.
Knowing that those positions are designed for training and frequent turnover, managers would be able to incorporate them into their area’s workflow.In return, they would benefit from frequent infusions of new energy, perspectives, and ideas in their work groups.
Another solution could be based on the consulting industry’s model, where partners act somewhat like entrepreneurs. Every client engagement is staffed by employees across levels of seniority and function. When an engagement ends, employees find new positions on new engagement teams.As they gain experience, associates move up in responsibility until they reach the partner level. Because the number of potential partners and client engagements is infinite, there is no limit to the rewarding, engaging jobs at every level and talent development never stops.
While this model may not be appropriate or possible for all industries, it offers another example of how variety of experience can be built into a company structure to provide talent development.
Perhaps the most fundamental tool for talent development, regardless of industry and corporate structure, is feedback on employee performance.The most common mechanism is the annual review, and often its focus is on the past, and its tone critical rather than supportive.
In my next post, I’ll explore more positive and helpful alternatives to the traditional annual review available to all managers and human resources professionals.