This article was updated on July 31, 2018.
For organizations looking to hire the next generation of leaders, finding the right mix of skills, drive and interest can be a challenge. According to the ADP Research Institute® report, Strategic Drift: How HR Prepares for Change, hiring skilled employees and retaining them are leading HR challenges.
While many training programs — including MBA programs — focus on developing business skills like understanding financial management or overseeing marketing, soft skills like communication and creativity can sometimes get lost in the shuffle. To be successful in the evolving business world, tomorrow's leaders need problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
Here are strategies to find today's most promising talent and help shape individuals into tomorrow's leadership.
Embrace Skip-Level Management
The Wall Street Journal reports that skip-level management, which encourages workers to develop a relationship with their manager's manager, should encourage current leaders to invest in upcoming talent. With this model, higher-level management is able to see beyond day-to-day performance to share more holistic feedback. Developing relationships across tiers of talent helps connect individual efforts to the larger picture, provide opportunities for honest feedback and create a space for workers to reach out when they need guidance.
Redesign Your Recruiting Process
The typical organization's recruiting process is designed to help identify the right candidate for a specific position. But it may be less optimized for exploring overall leadership potential and critical thinking skills. For organizations that want to invest in developing the next generation of leadership, a recruiting process with that outcome in mind can help generate long-term results. Changes may include how you screen resumes, the way you write job ads and how you structure the interview and candidate evaluation process.
Mentors are different from managers. Instead of providing oversight on immediate work and productivity, a mentor helps workers develop crucial skills and a long-term plan for impact and career growth. For example, pairing a potential rising star in your sales department with a top sales manager can help them take their performance to the next level. From long-term career progression to navigating issues in their immediate day-to-day environment, mentors help provide another perspective on the workplace. Mentorships can champion close ties throughout the organization, which can increase an employee's sense of belonging and increase retention.
Blend Outside Perspectives With Institutional Knowledge
When developing your recruiting plans for senior positions, consider outside talent in addition to hiring from within. Outside talent can bring fresh perspectives and new networks, while talent promoted from within has valuable knowledge of customer relations and organizational practices and values. When both kinds of expertise are represented on your leadership team, your organization's approach to solving problems may be more balanced and successful.
Focus on Long-Term Professional Development Planning
To develop leaders within your organization, you should also focus on long-term career planning. For example, businesses use a range of training models, executive career coaches, rotational programs and time overseas to help promising employees gain expertise. These investments pay off as individuals reach a higher level of authority in the organization. Investing in learning management systems can help facilitate this process, as they allow HR leadership to control and shape leadership training tracks. Employees will be able to better understand their objectives within the leadership training program, and managers will have visibility into data about who is excelling and fully taking advantage of these improvement opportunities.
For example, consider the case of Marriott, an organization that has developed a number of initiatives to foster talent throughout their long history, according to ADP's Strategic Drift report. One recent effort, called their "Talent Network," provides staff the opportunity to work on projects from other areas of the organization. As a result of this and other initiatives, the organizations's turnover rate has dropped to just over 10 percent for management.
Use Talent Intelligence Solutions
Talent intelligence solutions are customized software programs that help enterprise talent management teams identify leadership potential. From developing a picture of the talent you have available to charting a training road map, intelligence solutions allow businesses to make real-time assessments and offer customized feedback to team members. A talent intelligence solution can also play a role in long-term planning and provide a stream of insights for managers to draw on during employee evaluations.
Many organizations are struggling with the reality that their future leaders may lack key skills like critical thinking or the diverse perspectives that are needed to lead. But developing leadership shouldn't be a linear process. By taking a long-term approach to finding and fostering talent, it's possible for HR to cultivate the next generation of leaders by identifying potential, investing in training and mentorship and mapping out career paths. The right internal structures — like effective recruiting processes and talent intelligence systems — help scale these activities across the enterprise.