Growing your future leaders takes more than people skills – it demands rigorous and frequent assessment to inform development.
Imagine you employ a team supervisor. She’s great at her job and very reliable. But after two years, she tells you she’s moving on.
“Oh no – where to?” you ask, thinking of how hard it will be to replace her.
“I’ve picked up a job in a law firm,” she says. “I’m finally going to be able to use my degree.”
“What degree?” you ask.
“My MBA degree,” she says. “I’ve been studying part-time. I graduated three months ago.”
Too late you think about the P&L Leadership role you’ve been straining to fill at your own workplace. Too late by three months? No. By two years. If you can’t spot an ambitious self-starter, you’ve taken your eye off your business horizon.
Assessing workers isn’t merely a box-ticking exercise – it’s a crucial tool for identifying future leaders. The tasks they are currently employed to do may not reflect their longer-term capabilities or hint at their unspoken ambitions.
Future-proofing the company staff structure comes in three parts – clarification, calibration, and cultivation.
Clarify what the company needs
Calibrate what is in the talent pool
Cultivate that talent to grow strong leaders
Relying on managers to organically uncover untapped potential is haphazard, inefficient, and not entirely fair. Managers are often hard-pressed and not necessarily equipped to bear the future needs of the company in mind. They may not have access to data outlining any skills gaps looming in the mid-term or long-term future.
Regular assessment – particularly for identifying leadership potential – requires a thorough, systematic, and repeatable approach, for three good reasons:
1. Discovering hidden talent
Your workforce is made up of people with many and varied facets and not everything they can offer will have found its way onto their CV when they first arrived for the interview. Even a rigorous recruitment process can miss buried treasure – and longstanding employees may have been quietly garnering a whole chest full of additional skillset loot. Without regular assessment, this may not be something they share with you.
In short, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. And worse, another employer will. At the end of February 2023, the ONS reported more than 1.1 million unfilled vacancies in the UK. There are a lot of recruiters out to tempt talent away.
2. Sorting the managers from the non-managers
Assessing employees for what they can offer now, where the skills gaps are, and what training they need in order to offer more across the next decade, can help to future-proof the leadership supply chain.
This should be endemic to the company’s processes, informing its long-term strategy and sustainability, but for leadership roles it will carry additional nuance. Many excellent employees are not natural managers and pushing them into a management role risks pushing them out altogether.
In a 2022 survey by Ivanti, 71% of office workers from Europe and the US said they would turn down a promotion in favor of more flexibility. The next step up is not the holy grail for everyone, so identifying who will be happier where they are is important too.
However, for most employees, career progression is important. In LHH’s 2022 Global Workforce of the Future report, 44% said without it they would be looking to move on. Frequent assessment is a pulse-check which gives a firm the best chance to retain all its staff and move its future leaders into bespoke development programs.
3. Discovering the Future Leaders
Leaders eventually hang up their hats – maybe sooner than expected.
High potentials are, by their nature, ambitious – and a flight risk if not offered a rewarding career path and the investment that goes with it. At a time when the talent pipeline is dripping, not gushing, retaining the C-suite line up of the future becomes even more critical.
Assessment data contains a wealth of richness. What should follow is a well-designed Leadership Development Program, tailored to fit each individual’s needs and maximizing the insights to strengthen an emerging leader’s capability in the areas they need most.
Talent development depends on talent assessment – and a sound leadership assessment process will enable you to make confident, evidence-based decisions as you plan for the years and decades ahead.
As a rule of thumb, never assume a supervisor isn’t considering the board room.