Building a strong leadership team and line management training are the primary challenges for organisations, according to a recent survey of 450 European organisations.1 This is against a backdrop of only one in five organisations being prepared for the departure of senior leaders2 at a time when, according to Pew Research3, roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers are entering retirement age every day. Organisations stand to lose senior knowledge about processes and procedures – it is increasingly vital to have a talent pool of future leaders.
All too often the focus of leadership training and development is on the executive team – but the reality is that 70 percent – 80 percent of the workforce reports to a middle manager, not to a board level executive. Middle managers are key individuals who need to support, advise, motivate and drive the vast majority of employees within the organisation to meet the organisation’s goals.
Middle managers often need support in developing coaching skills so that they can maximise on the job coaching for their team, delegate workload and develop the leaders of the future. They may be reluctant to cede control. The key is to put in place processes and protocols to ensure they are still connected to what’s happening and know what is important for them to know. Managers also need to develop their soft skills so that they can enable employees to make their own decisions. Rather than simply just giving employees the answers when questions arise it is important to use these situations as learning tools and be ready to ask how the employee plans to respond and why.
It is important that this process is not confined to the quarterly, or even annual, performance appraisal meeting, but becomes embedded in daily workflow – Adobe, GE and Accenture have all gone public about their decision to dump the annual performance review. Research from the Brandon Hall Group4 reveals that performance management is often inconsistent and ineffective; managers and employees view the annual performance evaluation as a negative experience and a whopping 70 percent of companies’ state that performance management is average or below average. Continuous coaching and feedback, regular goal setting and alignment and ongoing employee development are all key to making performance management a valuable and process to employees at all levels. It also shifts the focus of these discussions to be more future-oriented and tied to the on-going development of the employee. Yet, frontline leaders need support, training and resources to do make on-going performance management a reality.
Halogen Software recently partnered with Harvard Business Review Analytic Services to do a global survey on frontline leadership development that incorporated the views of 610 organisations from all parts of the world. 60 percent of the organisations were large, with more than 1000 employees, yet only 12 percent felt their organisation invests sufficiently in frontline leaders. The result of this lack of investment is poor ratings of leadership competencies, with only 20 percent of leaders judged competent at strategic thinking, and under par organisational performance – 79 percent of respondents believed that the lack of frontline leadership tools, training and development negatively impact their firm’s performance
High potential v. high performance
Clearly leaders at every level need development to create a pipeline for top leadership. To identify who is best suited to leadership roles, organisations need to make the distinction between a high potential and a high performing employee. The temptation is to recognise, reward and promote, the current high performers who are hitting sales targets, for example. Yet, high potential employees might be the leaders of the future capable of effective decision making and leading and motivating large numbers of employees. The key difference is that crucially, people with the greatest ability to lead others may not be the highest performers. Yet research shows that those strong performers are consistently rated as higher potential. It comes down to a fundamental lack of understanding of the difference between a high potential versus a high performing employee.
According to CEB research, high potential employees have three key characteristics in common: aspiration, ability and engagement. i.e. you may have a high performer who has the ability and/or is engaged to take on a leadership role but may lack the aspiration to do so. In this manner, promoting him is of little value to the employee or the organisation. So what’s the best way to identify high potential employees? Talk to them. Maintain ongoing dialogue with all employees to find out what interests and motivates them in order to identify potential leadership candidates. Then use talent pools to develop and prepare them for lateral moves or advancement.
HR and L&D can support middle management develop their leadership skills by:
- Identifying leadership gaps using succession planning techniques. First identify critical leadership roles and “feeder roles” where likely successors might be found. Assess the leadership potential of your current talent and identify what areas of your company would be at risk if someone left. Where are the gaps, where roles are at risk and there are no clear candidates for succession?
- Aligning training more closely with succession planning to bridge the talent gap. Focus training on developing the leadership competencies most important to the business.
- Linking employee performance goals to corporate performance objectives. If every employee’s role and goal are tied to the organisation’s overall strategy, not just to their manager’s success, it is easier to rationalise conflicting priorities by referring to a common goal.
- Training managers on how to give ongoing feedback about performance. Ensure learning is practical, with hands-on exercises or even role-playing to help managers get comfortable with these skills.
- Encouraging dialogue. Reinforce the importance of managers having frequent, ongoing dialogue with their employees in addition to the formal reviews that happen once or twice a year.
- Offering the right tools. Online performance journals and one-to-one meeting tools can help managers capture in-the-moment feedback and discuss performance at regular intervals. Performance management software can go a long way to helping automate, simplify, and streamline the activities used to manage employee performance.
Organisations that want to create and retain strong leaders must create the systems, processes and policies that support good leadership. This means that on-going performance management not only reinforces what is expected of an organisation’s leaders, but also the measurement and development of leadership capability.
Investing in the leadership development of line managers can make all the difference when it comes to business growth and success. Regular, on-going feedback also has a tremendous impact on employee productivity and engagement, so ensure managers have the tools and resources they need to effectively communicate with, coach and engage employees. Equally important is for organisations to identify and nurture their high potential employees and to then provide on-the-job and formal training to develop their leaders for the future.
1 Halogen and People Management survey 2015, ‘Developing talent for the future: are you creating a sustainable culture for employees to flourish?’
2 Halogen Software and Cranfield School of Management, Talent Management survey 2014, ‘Striving for Long terms success’ http://www.halogensoftware.com/uk/learn/whitepapers-and-ebooks/talent-management-strategy-survey-uk
Dominique Jones is Vice President of Human Resources at Halogen Software. She holds a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development Certification.