A business faces obstacles on many fronts: competitors, changing consumer needs and preferences, and disruptive new technologies being the more obvious ones. The last thing any company needs is a challenge from within.
That’s why it is so critical to hire and develop the right people, and why putting the wrong leaders in place is an act of self-sabotage. Bad leaders may be indecisive or unable to anticipate or address long-range strategic needs, or they might alienate staff and cause reduced productivity and turnover. Good leaders, on the other hand, position the company for success, drive innovation, and transform organizations into destination employers that attract good talent.
While you can’t control the external factors mentioned at the beginning of this piece, it is within your power to hire and develop the leaders who will keep your organization healthy and secure and on target toward achieving strategic objectives. By integrating these seven best practices, you can begin building the bridge to a successful future.
1. Determine the success factors – Before you even start searching for applicants, define—in a meaningful way—what it takes to succeed both in the role and in the organization. If you have a specific leadership position to fill, update the job requirements and sort them by importance. That is, separate the “nice to have” skills from the “must have” skills and weigh them appropriately. Suggestion: Emphasize intrinsic leadership attributes above technical abilities that can be learned.
Whether you have an open role to fill or are trying to build your leadership bench strength for the future, take the time to examine what top performers look like in your company. Who has succeeded in the past, and who has failed? Why?
Answering these questions involves getting a handle on your company culture. If you want to reinforce the culture, hire leaders who resemble strong past and current leaders. If you want to change the culture, hire people who align with your desired state, but be consistent and systematic. There are no shortcuts in talent alignment, and losing focus is the same as throwing away all the work that has already been done.
2. Determine organizational needs and gaps – Where are you falling short as a company? Maybe you want to be more innovative in your industry and market. Maybe you need to strengthen your sales culture. Perhaps your brand image is ill-defined. Look for people who can fill those gaps and bring balance.
The rising popularity of people analytics and data mining goes beyond consumer research and trends. It can also be used internally to get a wide-angle view of organizational weaknesses that may go unseen otherwise.
3. Get serious about collecting data – If resumes, references, interviews, and other traditional ways to screen applicants worked effectively, assessment companies and people-analytics software wouldn’t exist.
Collecting data in the form of pre-employment assessments, internal performance records, and other quantifiable sources can help hiring managers and HR teams not only see the strengths and weaknesses of applicants individually and in comparison to top performers; it also brings consistency to a leadership-development strategy. With a data-focused approach, every applicant, internal and external, is evaluated on the same objective criteria, and you’ll acquire the intel you need to see which applicants have potential to fill your organizational gaps. And you’ll be building and strengthening your data pool at the same time.
4. Identify high potentials – Companies often look around the room, see their leadership is lacking, and bring in heavy hitters from outside to shake things up. Sometimes doing so is necessary, but don’t bypass the opportunity to explore the hidden talent already on board. Not every leader has to be a charismatic influencer. Rather, a diversity of personal styles brings a wider range of insights and ideas to the organization.
Collect psychometric data on your team members. Even if you don’t discover your future president already on staff, you are likely to find strong individual contributors who are being under-utilized.
5. Develop people according to their strengths, not their limitations – Organizations often take a “leadership’s greatest hits” approach to their applicant search. In other words, they want to cherry pick all the desirable qualities and then wonder why they can’t find the right candidate.
From a psychometric perspective, you’re doomed if you expect Captain America to submit an application. Many desirable qualities are negatively correlated. For example, a decisive visionary who drives innovation is unlikely to be good at project implementation. The person who displays strong personal impact and influence probably won’t be as effective in terms of operational oversight and administration.
Figure out their styles (i.e., how they communication, how they think, how they execute) and build on the strengths. To an extent, you can compensate for shortcomings, but you can’t “fix” someone’s personality. See item one, above: If prospective leaders don’t possess your “must have” qualities, they probably aren’t right for the job.
6. Partner with your future leaders on coaching and development – It is overly optimistic, if not naïve, to hire someone who looks good on a psychometric Profile and then assume their intrinsic strengths alone will elevate them to the status of top performer.
Employees—leaders and individual contributors alike—perform best and are most engaged and productive when they believe management is invested in their success. Coaching works best as a shared endeavor in which manager and employee each have a voice. The manager or HR professional should guide the process, but new and future leaders will be more motivated when they can take ownership of their career development.
7. Provide real-world challenges to resolve – “Stretch goals” and other common developmental practices often serve to check a box rather than to actually help new leaders grow and prepare for succession. Challenging assignments should be relevant to the job, make sense for the business, and be chosen in collaboration between manager and new hire.
If possible, assemble a cross-functional team of new leaders and give them a real-world business obstacle to address, guided by a contracted facilitator or experienced HR professional. New leaders experience accelerated growth by working in a situation that closely resembles an executive group, and they benefit from a diversity of ideas and perspectives. And, as a bonus, a business issue is resolved!
Maximizing the development of current and future leaders is not easy. There’s a lot of push-pull and finding the right balance between when to provide support and when to step back, all while maintaining awareness of broader organizational goals. But by incorporating a data-focused approach, enduring consistency, and following a sound system of best practices, you can help position the people you hire, and your organization, for long-term success.