Who Should Own Leadership Talent Development?

Posted by Susan Cullen on May 28, 2014
talent development

Who should own leadership talent development? The short answer is everyone. But making sure succession planning is an effective, ongoing process—versus a series of disjointed programs—requires strategy and sustained buy-in at all levels. Here’s how different groups can step up to the plate and assume the necessary roles:

The C-Suite

Leadership talent development is a billion-dollar business, with no shortage of courses and best-selling hardcovers to access. But the latest training product won’t do you any good if you haven’t established the internal frameworks or context for leadership success among your teams. For example, what does valuable potential look like in your industry—or more importantly, in your distinct company? What are the problems your company needs to solve? Which talents and competencies would best deliver solutions? This is where leadership development needs to start. 

Daniel Rasmus says, “Modern organizations with good strategic plans include very prescriptive language about how they differentiate themselves in the market. Leadership and management training should evolve from the strategic plan, not the best seller. If organizations can’t tie learning or development to furthering the organizations strategic goals, then those topics need to be either dropped or reworked until the right links can be fashioned.”

Line Managers

Once senior leaders define leadership potential in consistent, company-specific terms, line managers shoulder the task of actually scouting for these qualities in everyday scenarios. Having identified potential, a line manager’s role can get even more complicated; it’s her job to coach promising employees according to their individual needs. Giving employees access to the different tools, assignments, or company networks they need to grow can create tension.

Murray Furlong explains, “Line managers need to be able to cope with these different needs and know how to prevent the issue of talent becoming divisive. It can become difficult if an ‘us and them’ environment is created within the team. At the same time, line managers have to be authentic in dealing with their teams—and they have to know what options are available when it comes to developing different people.”

Human Resources

In most organizations, HR owns the processes for talent development and leadership succession planning. Depending on an organization’s size, HR/L&D professionals are regularly bringing new initiatives to ground-floor managers—hopefully with a shared focus for all business units. But there’s much more to do than simply connect the dots. HR must help to feed a pro-talent culture.

Here’s what Stacey Harris of Bersin by Deloitte had to say about HR’s role in building talent strategy into a corporate culture:

“The true value of an HR business partner role seems to be in their abilities as a coach, mentor, business advisor, and strategist… Leadership sets the tone and direction of a corporate culture, but HR could be the mirror for our leaders and help them see both the positive and negative elements of their decisions and behaviors.”

Individual Employees

Admittedly or not, some companies/managers still shrug off their role in employee talent development. And you don’t have to look far for evidence of a disconnect. According to a 2012 survey, barely 25 percent of respondents had met with their managers in the past six months to discuss an individual career plan. Less than one-third received training and development, and only 46 percent saw themselves maintaining long-range careers with their current employers. If it seems like employees are on their own, it’s because they sometimes are.

But DIY leadership development doesn’t work for obvious reasons. Douglas Ready and Jay Conger addressed the challenges of leadership development more than 10 years ago, in an insightful article from MIT Sloan’s Management review. The pair concludes, “When one adds the pathologies of power — guarding turf, withholding information, nonparticipation — to the many other problems associated with assigning ownership to a particular group, it becomes clear that accountability for leadership development must be the interconnected responsibility of the CEO and top team, senior line managers, HR specialists and the high-potential individuals themselves.”

Do you agree?  Who owns leadership development in your organization… and what are you doing to make it a shared responsibility? 

Topics: Leadership Training


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