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Is there anything more important to a company’s longevity than the cultivation of its future leaders? I’d say no. And I’d go a step further and say that many companies in the Global 2000 are failing when it comes to developing the next generation of leaders.
A significant number of people who are currently leading many of the Global 2000 came up through the ranks of the likes of IBM and GE. Those are just two examples of organizations that decades ago made the strategic decision to make massive investments in leadership development. I don’t see many companies today willing to make the same sorts of commitments.
The data bears that out: A 2016 Harvard Business Publishing survey found a paltry seven percent of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders. Yet without succession planning, leadership development and a process for managing talent, lots of organizations are endangered. That’s the bad news.
The good news is, by evaluating available data, current leaders can start to build a pipeline of leadership talent who have the emotional intelligence – EQ – to advance their organizations and help them thrive. On the face of it, you might not think data and EQ have anything to do with each other, but I believe they’re closely linked.
While there are at least a half-dozen steps needed to build a pipeline of emotionally intelligent leadership talent – to “future-proof” management — I’ll focus on three in this post.
1. Prioritize cross-domain development
I’ve seen an alarming trend I’d like more leaders to be aware of. Here’s the scenario: You have 20 employees who are so-so and one who is the standout. When I started in business, there were five standouts in that pool of 20. Now that one shiny apple is so obvious that we have no choice but to grab and promote him or her, and immediately pile on the responsibilities. The problem is, we don’t train them. We don’t teach these young managers, for example, how to avoid turning a crisis into a drama. We don’t teach them to pause and reflect. We are not equipping them with the emotional intelligence skills that are essential for successful leadership.
Nor are we modeling the importance of crossing domains within an organization. A good salesperson must be able to work with folks in marketing. And the marketing team needs to be able understand profit and loss statements. But for that kind of cross-departmental learning to be effective, there has to be a solid organizational foundation.
Exposing people with leadership potential to different parts of the business is something we’re committed to at Devo. For example, there’s a young man with a lot of potential who recently joined the company. I will make sure he spends a year in marketing, a year in finance, and so on. His rise will not be strictly vertical. Why? The people who have the most potential to lead companies tend to be the ones who have had exposure to different parts of operations, simply because it gives them an understanding of the entire organization.
So how can we deploy this concept? Instead of burying promising employees in tasks and/or leaving them to figure things out on their own, why not give the up-and-comers one high-visibility project per quarter and assign them a mentor to help guide him/her through the project? Or maybe have the rising stars do shadow rotations – like medical school residents do. That way, you’re showing these folks, not just telling them, what you expect of future management.
2. Take note of what data may be telling you
I was coached early in my career to watch out for team members whose work habits changed, for example if they started staying in the office later than normal. I learned that often times, the extended hours could be a sign he or she was having problems at home, or is overloaded with work. Being aware of this change in pattern made it possible for me to connect the individual with human resources, or even just to book a 30-minute weekly time to talk. It sounds like such a simple thing – to pay attention to schedule changes – but it’s an example of data that is really useful from a managerial standpoint.
While it might not be feasible for management to literally keep an eye on every team member, especially as companies have more remote workers, contractors, vendors, etc., there is plenty of data to help us measure employee effectiveness and potential managerial prowess if we know what to look for. For example, we can tell from the volume of emails and telephone calls if director-level folks are still communicating too often with first-line employees. If that’s happening, I can take steps to empower these directors to look ahead instead of back. Every interaction an employee has, every email, every video conference they do, every chat, every phone call – these are all data points that can help us identify potential standouts as well as problems.
3. Focus on results, not face time
When I’m looking to identify leadership talent, I often overvalue time in the office and work ethic more than I value results – even though I know data are what’s going to inform me about results. This is a generational issue. And in the next 10 to 20 years, a preference for a certain style of work is going to be a problem. We should stop looking at “time in office” as an important KPI! I suspect we’ll see more organizations shifting to the European model – people will not be expected to work 50-60 hours a week. We’ll also be looking at other issues, such as how individuals change office culture and which people make an effort to improve connectedness, making people want to work with them.
There’s more to say on the topic of using data to identify leaders, which I’ll write about in the coming months. But I’ll conclude with the observation that Millennials outnumber Gen Xers, and Generation Z is hot on the Millennials’ tails. Younger managers today who understand the brains of Millennials and Zs will be the people who change the world. We can use data to help them, and to help our organizations.
The folks at the top of the pyramid have the power and money, but the foundation for growth is built from the bottom up. It follows that the folks at the top of the pyramid have a responsibility to build the leaders of the next generation. Thankfully, we can use data, rather than “gut instinct,” to help us identify leadership talent.
By Walter Scott
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