Why it’s tougher at the top and what can organizations do about it.
By Cori Hill, Director, High-Potential Leadership Development, PDI Ninth House
As leaders rise in rank within an organization, their jobs become more complicated and the price for failure skyrockets. New PDI Ninth House research (Growing and Inspiring Talent: It’s Tougher at the Top, http://www.pdinh.com/thought-leadership/research/growing-and-inspiring-talent-it%E2%80%99s-tougher-top) shows that one of the most critical aspects of a senior executive’s job is the ability to build talent, yet that same research shows that a leader’s ability to do so decreases as leaders move up in an organization. In fact, the global study of more than 8,000 leaders shows that senior executives are seen by their employers and employees as less skilled at developing talent than first-level leaders.
First, why do senior leaders lack these critical skills? And, second, what can organizations do to make sure talent management remains a priority for top executives?
Each leadership level requires different talent management skills. First-level leaders build talent by selecting and developing their direct reports. They engage and inspire others by frequently and directly interacting with them. As leadership scope increases, so does complexity. Executives must not only develop and engage their own team, but they must hold others accountable for actions, create a positive environment, and devise systems that support the development of successors for key positions. For example, chief executive officers or presidents might assume success is measured only by focusing on the details of running their business and how to increase sales, win new accounts, or improve financial metrics— and leave people management to others. However, individuals in these roles should focus on managing their greatest assets: their people. If they do that well, they will have the teams capable of successful business execution.
There are four main ways organizations can ensure talent development remains a priority even at top leadership levels.
Create a Learning and Development Culture at All Levels: An essential first step is to create a general culture of learning and development. This means employees at all levels are offered opportunities and encouraged to participate in learning activities. These can be online courses, organization-run events, or activities and events through outside vendors. In organizations with a culture of development, employees are encouraged to include learning initiatives as part of their development plans. These initiatives are evaluated annually, and employees are held accountable if they do not participate. By doing so, organizations make it clear that they value the steps employees take
s to learn and grow their skill sets and competencies.
Instill Talent Development into Senior Leaders Job Descriptions: Accountability is key; senior leaders should not only be measured by their ability to deliver business results, but also by their ability to successfully grow their team’s capabilities. To best execute business plans with long-term impact, senior executives need teams that can deliver results today and well into the future. To do so, these executives must understand they have two roles: business execution and talent development. Executive compensation and bonuses may be tied to the accomplishments of direct reports, as well as more traditional business performance. Executives should set talent development goals and share them with their direct reports and ask for feedback.
Know Top Motivators: Senior executives who are successful at development understand motivation. They understand that without a connection to personal motivation, people will not be engaged, and without engagement it’s difficult to grow and develop talent. A different Pulse on Leaders (http://www.pdinh.com/press/press-releases/pdi-ninth-house-pulse-leaders-study-reveals-employee-priorities-throughout) research study that looked at top motivators from 2006 to 2011 showed that stimulating and challenging work remained the No. 1 motivator out of 19 possible motivators every year among workplace employees, while monetary compensation ranked eighth on the list every year. This proves that money on its own cannot buy engagement. Interestingly, work-life balance plummeted from No. 4 in 2006 to No. 7 in 2009 and stayed there, perhaps because people were simply happy to have a job as the recession gripped much of the globe. Another explanation may be that work-life balance used to mean working an eight-hour day in the office. Technology now allows people to be as productive at their kitchen counter or local coffee shop as they are in the office. What employees now may value is the flexibility to work on their terms, not to work less.
Leaders Who Coach: Finally, a caution to senior executives is that one size does not fit all and they should make a point of having one-on-one conversations with high-potential leaders on what motivates them and will keep them engaged and inspired. One tactic may be to learn the top three motivators for each direct report and work with them to ensure a development plan that meets the individuals top motivators AND the business goals. Such a development plan ensures employee growth that is reasonable and more likely to happen because it starts with individual and leader buy-in and matches to organization goals.
No one ever said growing and developing talent is easy, and it only seems to get tougher as one moves up an organization. Organizations that create a culture of learning and make talent management part of the “job” at all managerial levels will put their senior leaders and their organization as a whole in a much better position for the long term. These measures, along with every manager understanding what motivates his or her key employees and taking steps to keep motivation high, will better position companies for the long term by increasing retention and ensuring bench strength and skill sets go deep within the company ranks.
Cori Hill is director of High-Potential Leadership Development at PDI Ninth House, a global leadership solutions company. For more information, visit http://www.pdinh.com.