Leadership

Engaging SeniorLeaders in SupportingLeadership Development

Involving senior management in leadership development (LD) is always identified as a critical success factor. Having your VPs and CEO facilitate workshops, however, is not the only way to get them involved. There are many options and alternatives. I hope you find the following suggestions useful in building your own lists.

You can make some of the items on your list mandatory and others optional, i.e., give leaders a generous list to choose from and help them do a great job with the items they’ve chosen. You might even offer different lists for leaders at different levels. Do what will work best in your organization, but do it.

Message to leaders: 

Leadership development (LD) has an enormous impact on the success of our organization. It helps us develop the talent we need to get the job done; compete for talent; improve employee engagement and retention; ensure everyone is living the core values; … and turn our company into a talent making machine. Research and experience show that quality of supervision and leadership has a significant impact on productivity, customer service, and profitability. (A few key stats here and quotes here.)

Get involved, lead the way, model desired behaviour, and champion our programs—help us make our programs as effective as possible.  Here are a bunch of things you can do to make solid talent management a big priority in our company.

Baseline talent management duties—all leaders at all levels:

This first list includes the kind of things you might hold all leaders accountable for:

1.  First and foremost, all leaders should be held accountable for leading by example, i.e., living the core values, being accountable for results, and maintaining a strategic (big picture) focus.

2.  High quality performance management: All managers (all levels) should know what their employees are up to and how well they are performing. Value adding performance management involves ensuring employees have bold business and learning goals, offering feedback and coaching to help them achieve their goals, and reward / recognition / appreciation for effort and achievement.

3.  Assess and develop talent on their teams: All managers should be accountable for the quality of talent on their teams, and of course well trained in talent management in general: recruiting, identifying, deploying, developing, engaging, and retaining talent.

4.  Team level succession planning: all managers should being doing some kind of succession planning work, as per company policy.

5.  Promote a curiosity, openness, and can-do attitude about upcoming workshops. Even when a leader is unable or unwilling to educate him or herself about an upcoming LD program, they can still be asked to promote the program to their direct reports in this minimal way: “Let’s take this for a spin and see what we can get out of it. How are you going to prepare? What are you planning to get out of it?”

6.  All managers should debrief their employees after each LD session (instructions here).

Optional (à la carte) tactics: 

This second list includes the kind of things you want to encourage as many leaders as possible to participate in. There is no reason why leaders can’t pick and choose their favorites. You might make it mandatory for senior leaders to pick at least one tactic each year. And you might encourage leaders to try different things year to year.

1.  Participate in LD as a learner. Variations: take a condensed version of the program; read the workbook; or participate in a pilot project. Reasons: It is very important for senior managers to know what leaders in your organization are learning; demonstrate that they are committed to their own learning; model desired behaviour (walking the talk); and know how to support their employee after the workshop.

2.  Participate in LD as faculty. HR must help leaders prepare properly so they do a good job and are not embarrassed. There are a whole range of possibilities here:

    • Make the opening remarks: a few words on the importance of training and where the organization is going…
    • Supply a business case
    • Present a case
    • Facilitate a module of the program
    • Mentor project teams (action learning projects) in the workshop

3.  Oversee (mentor) post-workshop cross-functional assignments, i.e., business ideas and action learning assignments that come out of LD programs.

4.  Program design support, e.g., testing models, developing or supplying cases, identifying stretch assignments, identifying business improvement ideas that could be used for action learning projects…

5.  If senior leaders have taken the training, they can coach, mentor, or debrief second generation participants, i.e., future iterations of the program.

6.  Serve on an LD strategy advisory committee, e.g.,

    • Defining leadership and expectations for leaders in your organization
    • Needs assessment for LD
    • LD strategy
    • Identifying linchpin positions (where you need your best talent)

Engaging Senior Leaders

7.  Quality control / auditing for LD programs, e.g.,

    • Have senior managers attend the post-workshop cohort debriefing sessions
    • Provide feedback on project proposals and action plans that come out of workshops
    • Read the workshop evaluation data (participant comments)
    • Participate in program audits, i.e., in measuring the success of a specific program or auditing the value of your LD efforts as a whole

8.  Participate in other leader development activities—above and beyond the workshops, e.g., skip level meetings, lunches with high potential managers, town hall meetings, new manager assimilation, mentoring, etc. Help each leader find tactics that works best for them. There is a helpful list in Noel Tichy’s book, The Leadership Engine (Harper Business 1997), pp. 256-259, with pros and cons of each approach. This list is a little dated but how many of your senior executives are doing better / have topped this list? Could be a great place to start.

9.  Conduct a few entrance interviews (with HR) every year: How well are we integrating new leaders?

10. Conduct a few exit interviews (with HR) every year: Why does talent leave? 

Two Famous Examples:  

  • In addition to spending a great deal of time every year on succession planning (charting the deployment and development of GE’s top talent around the globe), Jack Welch personally participated in (facilitated) GE’s now famous “work-out” sessions. Ulrich, Kerr, and Ashkenas wrote a book on this process: The GE Work-Out (McGraw-Hill Professional, 2002.) Again, old news, but are you doing better; have you caught up to these old practices yet?
  • As Vice Chairman of Pepsi, Roger Enrico personally led seminars in Pepsi’s “Building the Business” program. He also coached the participants on their business building ideas after the workshop. Criteria for acceptance to the program: a business-building idea important enough to be one of the top 3 priorities of the participant’s division. Enrico’s famous introduction to his workshops: “Nobody in this room can look at the company’s problems and blame the turkeys at the top. You’re now one of them.” (Reported in Tichy & Cohen, Leadership Engine (Harper Business, 1997).

Follow Through:

As with anything important, debrief before, during, and after major experiences to enhance learning and deepen understanding. This applies to participants of leadership development programs and to the executives you are engaging in your LD activities.

Blog series on workshop follow up:

  1. Accountability and Support (post workshop group debriefing)
  2. For Direct Managers of Workshop Participants
  3. What Workshop Participants Can Do
  4. Engaging Executives in Supporting Leadership Development
  5. What the Organization Can Do (HR & OD)

Advanture helps organizations take their leadership development practices up to the next level for enhanced business performance. Performance by design!

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