How to Develop Your Employees for the Future

Effective Leaders Work Hard At Developing Their Replacement.

By Steve Schumacher

Most organizations put a long-range plan together for things like market share, revenue, products lines, etc. Those plans typically extend out for five or 10 years. Fewer organizations put the same time, energy, money, and brain power into putting together a long-range plan for employee development. 

The companies that make attempts at forecasting employee development create succession-planning lists for the top positions in the company. In my experience, those lists are not put together systematically and are usually left to the discretion of senior executives. How those people are developed, over time, is typically left to that same discretion. Developing future leaders in this manner is truly a roll of the dice. The question of whether or not this sort of developing is effective for the entire organization is an open one.

As we all know, change is pretty much the only constant in business. The last couple years have been a prime example of that for all of us. Our basic responsibilities do not change, but the methods we go about achieving those responsibilities change. We must provide a high-quality product, in sufficient quantity, in a timely manner. Developing employees for the future is another responsibility where how we go about it may change, but we still are accountable for the end result. 

In this shifting quicksand of an environment, work on being flexible and keep in mind a few things when you work to build leaders of the future.

Future leader criteria. The traits, skills and abilities that got you to a leadership position may not be what it takes to be a leader in the future. Work with other leaders on projecting what the success factors for leaders five years from now will be. Figure out how to assess those factors to help you be objective about each potential leader you identify. Consider factors like technical skills, interpersonal skills, strategic ability, integrity, and ethics. It is important that all the executives agree upon the leadership criteria and how to assess those criteria.

Identify potential leaders. Each executive should identify three to four people they consider to be future leaders in your organization. Start small to test the process and correct any flaws you find. Executives should seek to come to a consensus on these names. A consensus does not mean that everyone agrees 100%, it means everyone can work with the decision. Those who disagree with any of the potentials need to talk to their boss about them to gain information about their skills and abilities. This will serve as your beta test for the process of identifying future leaders.

Involve the potentials. Once you feel good about the identification process and a handful of potential future leaders, you must involve them. I have seen way too many organizations that identify a list of potential leaders and keep it a secret. To be most effective, potential leaders must know that they have been identified, that they will be developed, and that their participation is optional. For those that agree to participate, involving them from the very beginning will help ensure their buy-in and ownership for the entire process.

Agree on development steps. Once the foundation is laid to identify future leaders, the real work begins. This is where you, as a leader, become the steward of the future leaders’ development. With the person to be developed, go over the leadership criteria and how they were evaluated on each one. For example, if strategic planning is an area that needs developed, come up with a plan to educate the person on strategic planning, get involved in your organization’s strategic planning as an observer, mentoring with a different senior executive who is skilled at strategic planning, etc. Building the development plan together ensures that the development process is a collaborative effort, not something that is “done to” an employee.

Implement and monitor. Now that you have a plan, put it into action. As the leader, make sure you take responsibility for helping set the stage for development if other departments’ cooperation is needed. Set time frames for completion of all action items so there is a sense of urgency. In addition to helping this person master the skills you have mastered, it is your responsibility to help them through the obstacles that will no doubt occur. Meet regularly to evaluate the entire process and how the candidate feels along the way. Also, make sure other leaders in the organization check in with the candidate on occasion.

It is important for all leaders to not only produce results today, they must all put plans together for future results and future leaders. 

Steve Schumacher is a management consultant, trainer and public speaker with more than 25 years of experience in numerous industries throughout North America, including aggregates operations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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