Companies and CEOs have willingly taken the responsibility for developing successors and core talent in their firms-investing in training and development programs, continuing formal education and coaching. However, when sales and margins decrease and the CFOs are reviewing where to cut costs, employee development at all levels is often placed on the chopping block.
The debate over whether to trade long-term development for making payroll, however, begs the question: Who is really responsible for talent and leadership development? Employees should no longer be passive followers regarding their own development. Leaders still need to make sure people are in the correct roles and work with employees on how to maximize benefit for everyone. But employees need to take more responsibility for the talents they need to grow.
An Evolving Culture
The employee contract has changed over the decades, as has the sociology of business. People used to stay with a firm their entire lives, but when business broke the culture of retention in the name of efficiency and cost savings, the workforce responded with the expectation that they would no longer stay in one place.
That creates a major challenge for companies. It is now normal for people to move to new roles, companies and even vocations many times during their careers. Generation Y (age 30 and under) seeks variety. These younger workers require a job they care about and they expect companies to provide development opportunities. But while firms continue to promote development as a benefit to attract and retain workers, it is often among the first items to be cut when things get tough. Therefore, employees are now expected to take on a greater role in their own development.
As such, it's time to write a new employee contract. Cradle to grave is not a reasonable expectation for people who are ambitious and want fulfillment in their careers. The new contract should be one that shares the responsibility of development, is open and honest about what the mutual association will bring, provides training that supports the core competencies of the business, and allows the employee latitude to grow beyond their existing employer.
For the CEO, this means:
Moving from being a custodian of your people to being a champion of them. The role of the firm is no longer to capture people and maintain them for life in the same job. Rather, it is to find people with core skills that fit the firm and grow people into roles that make sense for everyone.
Determining who in the organization has aspirations to grow. The truth is, some people are happy practicing their vocation and have no desire to advance. For those who want to become leaders, or have that potential, a development plan must be put in place. Also, tell people with potential they have a future with your firm and begin to help them achieve it.
Developing a high potential succession plan for your most important future roles. That ensures your core technical and leadership roles are being planned for and gives people a target for growth. For example, if a technically talented worker has potential and desires advancement to management, they should receive training, coaching and mentoring around the skills they will need for those future roles.
In some cases, considering people for succession into your company who come from the outside. Don't think of your organizational pool as just the people you have. The truth is some people won't be able to scale up with your company. There are times that it may make sense for some of your people to receive experiences outside your firm, which you cannot provide.
Allowing people latitude to work on community projects, sit on outside boards, join outside leadership programs and take project roles for your company. These experiences will provide them with diversity and depth that will be valuable to both of you.
Making your HR department a strategic business partner. If allowed, HR can lead and support organizational development, ensure that talent aligns with the firm's needs, and create training, succession and mentoring plans that will help grow the firm.
For the employees, shared responsibility for development means:
Viewing your career as a journey requiring you to find and receive different skills along the way. This may involve shifting to other functional roles or projects, and receiving training that complements existing technical skills.
Considering gaining experience and training outside the firm, even if it's on your own dime. This may mean investing in outside training, seminars, classes and coaching for yourself. Your company is responsible for supporting your growth, but your perspective should extend beyond your current position.
Gaining professional experience by volunteering your time. This could mean helping nonprofits and community initiatives that allow you to stretch and practice your leadership in other venues.
Making the most out of every position you hold. Don't allow yourself to just deliver what is expected. Leaders are recognized when in the act of leading, even if it is a small project.
Expanding your professional network and personal brand. All high performers know that building professional relationships is key to success. Every interaction you have is an opportunity to nurture your professional brand.
Becoming the CEO of yourself. You are ultimately responsible for your own career, personal mission, and professional impact. Create your own development goals, present them to your firm and show them how to best leverage your talents.
In today's fast-paced and uncertain world, retaining good people requires a creative approach to development. Companies need to create unique programs that fit each person, and not expect one program or method to work for everyone. They need to think differently about company sociology and culture, and create retention and attrition plans serving the needs of all stakeholders.
Take Rachel, for example. Rachel worked for a small firm as the director of sales development. She was good at delivering on tasks, but was not doing as well strategizing and directing her small sales team. Her boss, a vice president, recognized her potential and wanted to keep her, but knew she needed professional development the firm could not provide.
Rachel was young, had more than 400 contacts in Linked In, served on a couple of local boards and could easily find a new sales position. Her boss had a frank discussion about what Rachel and the firm both wanted and needed for the future. Rather than send Rachel to more sales training, all parties knew she needed to work for, or with, someone who had experience in sales management.
The vice president hired a local sales and marketing firm to provide services to the firm and help develop Rachel's strategy and management skills. This specific and unique plan allowed Rachel to grow and the company to receive the sales leadership they needed. A few years later, Rachel took back control and began to lead all marketing for the company. The firm saved a valuable employee and grew with her. A creative solution was custom designed for one person and the firm, and used a unique method of development that went beyond the traditional walls of the firm. More importantly,
Rachel and the firm did this together.
Today's workforce is expected to be flexible, agile and operate in an open and empowered environment. The employee contract has to change from work in exchange for a paycheck to professional services in exchange for development. Furthermore, the role of development should be shared and is the responsibility of both the employee and the firm.
Employee development should not be an afterthought. Rather, it is a critical component to the firm's and the employee's success and should be at the top of every stakeholder's to do list. n
Ouellette is the managing partner of Sojourn Partners, an executive leadership
coaching firm in Bedford. He can be reached at 603-472-8103 or