The complexity of the modern workplace places myriad demands on the organisation’s leaders. In addition to being technically skilled at their jobs, the leaders need to be strategic thinkers and problem solvers.
These demands on leadership attributes make it imperative for organisations to strengthen their talent pipeline through proper succession planning and leadership grooming. A robust talent pipeline ensures the availability of suitably prepared leaders who can seamlessly take over leadership functions as leadership transitions occur.
Developing the Talent Pipeline
Most organisations have some form of a talent pipeline. However, organisations fail to ensure tight integration of the talent pipeline with a cohesive talent strategy. The talent strategy should encompass identifying, selecting and developing suitable individuals for the talent pipeline.
A good talent strategy should necessarily include the following components:
Defining Leadership Needs
The first step in creating a talent pipeline is to identify gaps in the essential skills and competencies required for your organisational needs. This should be followed by identifying suitable high-potential individuals with the necessary leadership skills, who should then be provided with suitable development opportunities.
Leadership Development Programmes
The best organisations continuously evaluate the effectiveness of their leadership development programmes and refine them to meet their leadership development goals. Programmes such as Management Development Programmes (MDPs), on-the-job training, coaching, mentoring, etc., are commonly used for training future leaders. To evaluate the leadership development programmes, organisations assess performance improvement in the individuals who underwent leadership development. This data and the feedback received from the individuals are used to improve the leadership development programmes.
In order to avoid the pitfall of leadership grooming being reduced to a scattershot of unconnected events, it is essential to maintain tight ownership and oversight of all leadership development initiatives. It is also vital to integrate leadership development into all the talent management systems and processes - recruitment, performance evaluation, and ongoing career development. Building future leaders for the talent pipeline should be an organisation-wide activity.
Nurturing the Talent Pipeline
Progressive organisations establish a strong talent pipeline of individuals with the necessary skills and attributes. Such a pipeline usually comprises high-performing individuals from within the organisation. However, as the workplace evolves - the organisational challenges also evolve, and then individuals with new skills will be required. To widen the funnel for the pipeline, organisations should then look at talent from outside the organisation. The talent pipeline should be picked carefully, and the leadership development programme so designed should enable individuals to stretch and grow into new roles.
Future Leaders - Traits and Skills
While you are pondering the question of how to groom leaders and are working on building your organisation’s talent pipeline, the skills and personality traits that you should look for include:
Goal-focused: Rather than just following trends, a good leader can set goals aligned to the organisation’s aims and then work towards achieving them. This requires a big-picture mindset, focus, and discipline.
Risk-taking: Leaders should be able to challenge the status quo. They should be able to identify what is not working and implement changes. Leaders need to be bold, willing to take informed risks and get things done.
Teamwork: A leader only exists if there is a team to lead. Every leader needs to be a team player. The leader needs to encourage diversity in the team to foster a diversity of thoughts. The leaders need to trust, inspire, engage, motivate, and empower the team. Most importantly, the leader must challenge the team to give its best.
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Accountability: Leaders should not only be willing to shoulder responsibility, but they should also be willing to be held accountable for their actions and outcomes. Accountability is tested the most when mistakes are made. Being responsible and accountable also signals reliability.
Confidence and Humility: A leader should be confident of their abilities and yet be open to learning. A confident individual will not hesitate to admit not knowing something and will be open to asking questions and learning.
Grooming the Talent in the Organisation
Organisations have a choice of options, outside the traditional classroom/workshop model, to groom their high-potential talent:
Expanding the Job Scope: Increasing an individual’s responsibilities (for example, through a promotion, business scaling, etc.) is the fastest and most effective way of enabling on-the-job training/grooming for larger leadership responsibilities.
Leading Turnarounds: Give the chosen individual the responsibility of turning around a failing or underperforming operation. This will allow the individual to manage budgets and deadlines and fix things through organisational changes and culture changes. Turnarounds could involve situations of dropping market share, low employee engagement, broken client relationships, etc.
Horizontal Mobility: Horizontal moves to adjacent functions, allied business units, a different industry sector - demand new expertise and the ability to adapt to new people, cultures, and processes - helping in leadership grooming.
Leading Initiatives: Giving opportunities to build/launch new products/services, draft new policies, etc., are also ways to groom new leaders.
Leadership Interactions: Regular formal/informal interactions with the organisation’s leadership team profoundly impact leadership grooming. Such interactions provide opportunities to learn through observation and can also be used by the leaders to guide, coach, mentor, motivate, and provide feedback.
When organisations embark on building a talent pipeline, the challenges that they typically encounter include -
- Leadership development initiatives tend to overly focus on what individuals do - on their technical knowledge or management skills. In order to build a robust talent pipeline and the attention on what individuals do, leadership development should enable individuals to use their core strengths effectively, respond to crises, handle conflict, motivate people, etc. Talent development should also help individuals understand and manage the interconnectedness and complexity of the organisation.
- Organisational success depends on a range of organisational policies and processes. Future leaders should necessarily be able to understand and navigate these policies and processes and collaborate with the other leaders in the organisation to achieve organisational objectives.
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- Leadership development, to be effective, needs to be personalised. It needs to build the individual’s personal motivation and should be tailored to individual needs.
- Leadership development initiatives also often find it challenging to get individuals to reflect on essential but relatively abstract concepts, such as their purpose and desired legacy. This requires the personalised learning plan to be based on comprehensive assessments of competencies and personality attributes.
- Most organisations operate with a siloed view of operations without a systems-based approach. It becomes challenging for leadership programmes to enable individuals to learn to leverage the capabilities of the entire organisation to improve overall performance.
Many (if not all) of these challenges can be overcome if the top leadership actively participates in the leadership development process. The leadership team should be invested in the idea, provide clear direction, guarantee required resources, and, most importantly, provide visible role-modelling of the desired behaviours. They can signal their buy-in through active participation in the process as mentors, coaches, and sponsors.
The organisation has a pivotal role to play in grooming the talent pipeline. The opportunities and learning experiences provided will determine the quality of the future leaders in the organisation.