Adopt Two Principles to Build Pools of Talent

Each year annual surveys of CEOs highlight the need for leaders as a major concern.  According to Herminia Ibarra of the London Business School we need leaders who can handle adaptive challenges – which she defines as problems that cannot be solved from the top down, but require people, teams, units, and functions across the entirety of the organization to step up, to iterate and innovate, to learn and to adapt.

To prepare the next generation of leaders to handle this complexity Ibarra highlights the need to develop five skill areas: 1) building broader, more divers networks; 2) collaboration; 3) coaching; 4) culture shaping; and 5) connecting skills. (Link)

It is time for organizations to “flip-the-script” and use two principles to build pools of leadership talent ready to master the challenges of a complex world with adaptive challenges. 

  1. Focus On Talent Supply Not Demand

Most companies base their talent development budgets on the demand for talent – defined as the typical number of open jobs within a category.  I did the same thing when running talent management for Fortune 500 companies.  For example, at one firm we typically had 500 employees a year become first-time managers.  Therefore, our New Leader Program had 500 slots per year.

Today I would focus on the supply of talent – defined as the number of ready-now candidates for open jobs within a category.  Assuming I want to have two finalist candidates for each open position (the demand), then my New Leader Program should have 1,000 slots per year.  This philosophy does two things – one, it offers a larger pool of qualified candidates giving senior leaders more choice.   Second, it signals to colleagues that development is important in the organization, which will increase employee engagement and productivity.

One fear I hear peers express for not adopting this strategy is people will leave to work for other organizations if not immediately promoted after completing training.  I believe investing in employees will produce overall increases in retention and satisfaction that far out way any attrition.

  1. Fix Quality Over Cost and Time

The second principle is to fix quality in leadership development programs.  It is a fundamental principle in project management that when working on an initiative you can optimize quality, cost, or time, but not all at the same time.  Fixing one means you have to let the other two become variable.

At the frontline manager and new leader level organizations want to fix costs over quality and time.  They target investment in the $250 – $500 per participant range.  This price point favors virtual over in-person learning.  This approach often reduces opportunities to travel to the home or hub office sites.  It also reduces colleagues’ exposure to senior leaders.

At the mid and senior levels organizations often fix time over quality.  They are willing to invest more money to prepare leaders to take on roles with increased scope, but too much time away from their day-to-day responsibilities is considered risky.  The risk with this approach is employees are promoted into roles with little time to develop the necessary skills.  Participants are expected to master abilities like fostering innovation, incorporating artificial intelligence, or managing change in one or two weeks! 

Bottom Line

Subsidize supply, not the demand for talent to build strong succession pools.  Create development programs that insure quality (mastery of the skill), over cost and time.  Test mastery of the skill at various points in your program.  Some participants will need two days to understand the concepts, while others might require two weeks.  Guarantee understanding and couple with reinforcement post program.

Want more Career and Leadership Advice?

Develop: 7 Practical Tools to Take Charge of Your Career

Stay up to date on career and leadership content, book news, and events.

Learn more about having ted speak to your organization

Share This Post

More From The Blog...

The 3-Year Job Cycle

I recently caught up with the 2015 Class of my human resources leadership development program.  After sharing updates on engagements, marriages, children, and current living

Read More »