Developing Talent

Every business knows it needs to exploit its competitive advantages. But some large organizations may be overlooking one of their most important advantages, according to Jonathan Hoyt, a Principal in Heidrick & Struggles’ Leadership Consulting practice, and a Coro alumnus: Large organizations can systematically develop their next generation of top leadership from within, but many aren’t doing the right things. Jonathan took time recently to talk with Coro National about developing talent.

CN: What do we know today about developing the top tier of talent in organizations?

JH: The last 30 years of research have shown that exceptional leadership comes from experience, not from attending leadership classes. 70% of what leaders learn is acquired through work experience, 20% is learned through relationships (mentoring and coaching), and 10% comes from what most people think of as “leadership development” – structured learning in training or classroom settings.

CN: What kinds of experiences make the difference?

JH: The way to trigger explosive development of talent is to move people around deliberately. Organizations shouldn’t just wait and see if people string together the right set of experiences. They should identify high-potential individuals early in their careers and move them around systematically. For example, a company may take someone from an engineering function and have her manage a new business line, then run their customer service function, and include stints overseas to manage in different cultures. Other great experiences are to assign someone to run a turnaround project for a failing business line or a start-up operation. This gives them an understanding of all facets of the business and helps build a complete set of leadership attributes.

CN: What are some examples of those attributes?

JH: They include things like effective communication, clear business strategies that further the organizational goals of profit or impact, the ability to break work into meaningful pieces, delegate, coordinate – all the things it takes to manage the work of a large organization.

CN: You mentioned that a small part of talent development does take place in more traditional classroom settings. How should that be set up to be most effective?

JH: You can generalize it as an “Action Learning” approach. This means giving learning participants real work related to the business, typically in project teams, then returning to the structured setting for reflection, where they can that cement what they’ve learned. Some organizations give learning participants tough problems to solve and give them access to senior management to present their ideas – which can simultaneously develop them and provide executive leadership with valuable new ideas. Sounds a bit like what Coro does, doesn’t it? Coro has been way ahead in this kind of action learning format.

CN: Moving people into new roles to develop them doesn’t seem very complicated. Why aren’t more organizations doing this?

JH: Firms have to overcome the natural tendency of division executives to want to hold on to their best people. Those managers think of their best staff as eventual replacements for themselves, and don’t want to lose them to other parts of the organization. The message has to start from the highest levels of management. It can’t just be an administrative function in the human resources department.

Workforce mobility is another challenge. There’s diminished loyalty between companies and employees, so it’s harder to retain top performers. Some companies have stopped investing in their development programs because they lost the top people they prepared.

CN: Is there anything organizations can do to reduce those losses?

JH: There aren’t guarantees, but the best way to improve retention is to be sure that these talented people perceive that they’re moving forward. That has to be in done in tandem with the development work itself, so people can see the possibilities open to them within the company.

CN: Of course, one big question remains: How do you know who to pick for this kind of preparation?

รจ Stay tuned – in an upcoming post, Jonathan will share his experience with assessing talent.