The importance of learning opportunities as a business strategy
Many organizations avoid investing in employee development if there is no ready role for them to step into. "If I train them, they'll just take what they learned and go elsewhere," is an often-voiced concern of employers.
While we can't promise that employees who receive further training will never leave, this concern is where the balanced stool comes into play. Assuming your organization rewards and recognizes people appropriately, employees won't casually leave because you've provided them with skills attractive in the job market — especially if you help them see a future role within your organization.
Challenges to organizational leadership development
Organizations cannot "grow" a programmer or engineer overnight. Developing such skills takes years of experience, education and career growth. Building a continuous talent pool is a long-term strategy and a worthy endeavor in view of the ongoing talent shortage.
The following are five core challenges associated with organizational leadership development. Keep these challenges front of mind as you plan a talent strategy and consider the best use of available resources.
Challenge 1: Employee engagement and retention
As noted, developing talent from within your existing employee pool requires that employees be sufficiently engaged to stay with the organization and see a future for themselves.
Engaging employees is not a new challenge. Employers have grappled with this challenge for about 25 years; indeed a large HR technology sector focuses solely on employee engagement. Likewise, volumes of research address what drives employee engagement and retention, accompanied by lists of employer tactics.
Some employers invest multiple resources targeting all visible challenges, hoping just one solution will stick. However, this scattered approach means that employers may be unable to identify the cause behind any improvement to effectively integrate the tactic into an ongoing strategy. Instead, a targeted and strategic approach encompassing rewards, culture and learning is essential for long-term success.
Challenge 2: Differentiated talent strategy
Few organizations enjoy unlimited resources to invest in their employees, so it is critical to invest more in high performers and those with aspiration and potential who can advance organizational goals. Determining who those employees are, however, is not an easy task.
Decisions about the use of development resources may focus on functions rather than individuals, creating a more objective approach to resource allocation. Data analytics — such as turnover by department, revenue associated with departments or positions, or even perceptions of leaders by department — may help determine critical functions for organizational wellbeing and success. However, thoughtful input by senior leaders is required to pursue a differentiated talent strategy. This approach calls for making decisions around the disproportionate use of investment resources, development opportunities and rewards.
Challenge 3: Integrated talent management
A strong leadership development plan requires an integrated approach to talent management. Integrated talent management leverages all aspects of the HR function as an interconnected whole, from recruitment, onboarding, learning and development to performance, recognition and reward.
An integrated approach ties talent management processes to the organization's people strategy and links the people strategy to the corporate strategy. Intentional and purposeful senior leadership support is critical to the success of integrated talent management.
Such a strategy facilitates the attraction and selection of more successful hires, better-defined career paths and the alignment of the hiring and leadership development strategy. This people strategy then dovetails with organizational goals and efforts to identify existing talent in your organization ripe for development.
Challenge 4: "Gig mentality" workforce
It's been our experience that, compared with previous years, today's employees generally demonstrate less loyalty to a given industry or employer and more to their individual careers, lifestyle preferences and financial situation. The rise of the gig economy has shaped employees' perceptions of employment. Individuals of all generations are more likely to approach employment as blocks of work. This approach may find an individual doing one job for a while and then moving on to another job with a different employer, rather than focusing on growth within the current organization.
These employees value opportunity, flexibility and convenience associated with, the ability to rotate jobs, take on new assignments or extend personal time off. Such offerings will impact the full spectrum of HR functions, making integrated talent management (see Challenge 3) a must-have for effective leadership development. Adjust your talent management policies to work with this trend, not against it.
Challenge 5: A best-fit approach to learning
A one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development is more likely to fail than a tailored approach. People learn differently, including via classroom, online, video, gamification, mentoring, micro-learning, experiential and virtual reality, to name a few. Employers must consider which employees or functions warrant the most significant investment (see Challenge 2), and develop a learning strategy to achieve talent goals.
Like other HR activities, learning should be an integrated function — designed to close skill gaps, support performance, and increase career and organizational wellbeing. Consider supporting policies and practices, such as time-off and pay for learning. A learning strategy should also evaluate effectiveness on engagement and retention and, ultimately, leadership development.
Leadership development strategy and solutions
A strong leadership development strategy calls for a multi-point plan based on a clear understanding of the connection between talent and business operations and the problems the organization seeks to address. The relationship between your employees and your business is core to the organization's value proposition and differs by organization. Business strategists Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema, authors of the bestselling book The Discipline of Market Leaders,2 assert that organizational market leaders must master one of three value disciplines: 1) highest quality products, 2) lowest prices, or 3) best customer experiences.
Organizations invest in talent differently to provide the best customer experience (high-touch skills) versus the highest quality product (innovation, expertise) or the lowest price (efficiency, productivity). We suggest adding a fourth value discipline to Treacy's and Wiersema's list — the ability to attract, retain and develop talent. Once you clearly define the organization's value proposition (discipline) and the associated employee skills, you can begin creating a roadmap for investing in your employees to support the organization's strategic goals.