Recently, the team at HFL were asked to describe what we would propose as a perfect journey for high potential or emerging leaders, if money, time, and resources were no object. This is of course both high unlikely ever to occur (because everyone is struggling for time, money and resources), and highly subjective (because every journey is different).
But our team discussed the challenge we’d been set, and concluded that the perfect emerging leader journey would boast some common elements, even if each would have to be executed differently in each organisation. Here are those elements:
• Leverage previous experience. History can tell you a great deal about what a perfect journey in the future looks like. What worked in the past, and why? What didn’t, and why? What do the senior cohorts believe would work in the environment, and why? If emerging leaders still with the organisation has been on programs, what value did they get from them, and did it contribute to them staying? If some leaders on programs left, what did the exit interviews say about their reasons for leaving? Are they still contactable (oh, the joys of LinkedIn and Facebook).
• Build a Success Profile. Emerging leaders are usually being prepared for transition to the “next role”. What do employees who are being highly successful at this next role level do to be successful? What capabilities do they demonstrate, what experiences do they most value that contribute to success, what combination of aspiration and personal attributes helps them perform brilliantly? HFL would usually always start with a success profile to clarify what the end objective is – executives groomed to be highly successful at the next level.
• Ensure the selection process is robust. A nomination and selection process based around the organisation’s values, performance and learning agility should be established. Whether participants are selected by nomination or application or a combination of the two, if the wrong candidates make it to the program, the organisation will get inferior (or poor) results. Every hour spent getting this right is $10,000 saved later on. Note: it is very important to make sure participants on an emerging program are chosen because of their high potential, not just because of their past high performance. (This is a common mistake we see when auditing past client programs.)
• Benchmark existing capability via an initial assessment. Either a 360-degree survey, or development centre, built around the competencies from the role success profile, ought to be conducted. This generates relevant development plans, critical data for program designers, and builds a clear platform for development for the participants.
• Concrete in executive sponsorship. An executive leadership team member ought to be the active sponsor of the program, regardless of the level of the program. Active means an active supporter – opening sessions, being available for informal get togethers, assessor/mentors on action learning projects, and so on. The more visible the sponsorship, the more aspiration the program becomes in the eyes of your key talent.
• Macro design must feature spaced blended learning. Formal learning activities should be carefully blended with facilitated recall days, and project assignments, and coaching and/or mentoring follow up. These activities would ideally be spaced out so that workshops are followed by other activities.
• Micro design should be multi-everything. By micro we mean what actually happens in the learning opportunities (workshops, coaching sessions, action learning sets and projects) that occur. For emerging leaders in particular, our team at HFL believes that constantly mixing it up is critical to maintain interest and engagement. Multiple facilitators, multiple senior executive visits, multiple branches, geographies and divisions represented. Multiple topics, but not too many (a very common mistake). Multiple delivery tactics from discussions, role plays, videos, business simulations, group work, competitions, exercises, and so on. And multiple industries – use external “friendly” executives from other industries to come and present from their (different) perspective.
• Secondary assessment. Either midway through the program participants, or towards the end, participants are reassessed, and provided with individual feedback and planning. These assessments may provide a closer look at their own personal attributes and the impact it has on their leadership. Each participant has a development objective around their style enhancement and is required to report and gain feedback on their development.
• Accountability. Midway through the program and at the end, participants should be required to present to the executive leadership team on their development activities and progress. These sessions are best interactive, with the executive team questioning and challenging the participants’ learning. The final presentation is directed at how the person would take accountability for their own learning.
• Coaching and/or mentoring. What gets learned in workshops and other formal learning gatherings needs to be embedded – and the only way to do this really effectively is to provide personal support to the emerging leaders post workshop, throughout the program. HFL does this via executive coaching, or group coaching, or by assisting clients to build robust mentoring programs.
• Building in reflection reviews. A key theme throughout the program should be individual accountability for development. Skills in development planning and time spent at each session re-assessing development ought to be provided. In our experience the more reflection time we build in, the better the development outcomes.