Developing Business Leaders in a New World

by Amanda Avery, Senior Vice President / Senior Credit Administrator, Scott Valley Bank

During the recession, American business faced many difficult choices, and out of necessity we found ourselves stepping further away from the long-term plan to focus on a more urgent need: survival. Much like ER doctors and triage nurses, we focused on the most immediately impactful initiatives, leaving the rest to be dealt with later. Now, as we wipe the blurriness out of our eyes, we find ourselves standing in a pile of long since neglected strategies, visions, and goals. And as we catch a glimpse of the future, perhaps more clearly than we’ve been able to picture it for several years now, there are many of us that find ourselves asking “Who is going to take us there?”

A growing concern for businesses across the US is the lack of identifiable potential leaders within their organization, or even the industry as a whole. Many businesses have abandoned formal leadership and management training programs over the years, preserving needed resources and citing lacking returns on dollars and time invested. Absent the proper follow up, research suggests that as much as 90% of information obtained from formalized corporate training is lost within a year’s time if the skills are not regularly utilized. Investments in training can seem all that much more futile amidst increased employee turnover, particularly as the job market continues to strengthen and a larger proportion of the workforce is made up of Millennials. Recent surveys indicate that over 90% of Millennials believe they will be at their current job 3 years or less, with companies reporting that there is more turnover in this age group than any other. According to the American Management Association, most companies have self-recognized that they are ill prepared to deal with increased employee turnover as the job market improves. Research concludes that while most companies in the US are comfortable with their executive management team today, they are aware of a growing skill gap that exists between executive level staff and middle management.

Perhaps it’s time to ask yourself – how deep is your bench? But with all of the challenges of a weak supply of qualified workers in the market, increased competition for undiscovered talent, and a growing percentage of the workforce that places less value in loyalty, how can you be sure your investments in building core competencies and future leadership skills within your business pay off?

Just as you have had to adapt your business to accommodate changing customer preferences, meet compliance standards, and employ technological advancements, you need to address the manner in which you lead, manage and develop as the composition of the workforce changes. Here are some areas to consider:

  • Refine your definition of a “Leader” – A leader is no longer defined by supervisory responsibilities or managerial experience. Many define a leader today as someone with the most impact on an organization through the ability to adapt to rapidly changing environments, strong collaboration skills, and an aptitude for motivating others, regardless of whether they have formal supervisory responsibilities.
  • Inspiration is necessary – Being a top performer for the sheer pride in a job well done doesn’t hold as much water as it used to.  In fact, research concludes that employee effort has a direct relationship with the value the employee places in the work being done – the purpose of the work has to be aligned with what they believe is important in the world in order to induce the highest level of productivity.
  • Traditional roles, structures, and schedules may need flexibility – Surveys indicate that as many as 89% of Millennials prefer flexibility related to when and where they perform their work, with a more task-oriented than time-oriented approach. Likewise, younger employees challenge hierarchical reporting structures as well as traditional employee-boss relationships. To feel the most engaged, they want to feel the sense of a “work family” – to feel like their boss and coworkers have a vested interest in their success.
  • Incentives and performance reviews may need to be retooled – Millennial workers crave more regular feedback, recognition, and exposure to learning opportunities. Waiting for annual review cycles for progress checks won’t cut it with this generation. More regular mentoring and coaching sessions may prove more effective, along with what may be more frequent and creative reward or recognition for a job well done.
  • When it comes to training, define the need and rally the support – The largest training waste is attributed to improperly planned and executed training programs along with the fatal mistake of neglecting to align learning opportunities with recognized skill gaps. Formal and regular skills assessments serve as a roadmap for the areas where training dollars will have the most impact. Ongoing utilization of newly acquired skills, with regular supervisory emphasis and coaching, is considered to be unsurpassed in terms of information retention and true knowledge building. Keep in mind – mentoring is a continuous job.
  • Create a culture that values learning and development – Employees need to actually witness the direct correlation with knowledge and skill translating into success. It is important for management to take opportunities to promote learning initiatives at all levels and provide incentives for mastery of skill sets.  

As you outline your strategy for strengthening core knowledge and identifying top performers or potential future leaders, keep in mind that managing to an array of generations in the workforce requires management remain nimble. Don’t make the mistake of expecting all employees to be motivated by the same things. Just as you modify marketing strategies to appeal to the evolving tastes, demographics, and values of customers, perhaps the same broad appeal should be sought in your organization’s appeal to talent. As you reengage in assessment of long-term sustainability and continuity of your company’s core values, don’t neglect to take a thoughtful and perhaps innovative approach to your investment in the vital element of human capital.

For those of us that consider ourselves among “the lucky few” to have been the beneficiaries of tremendous training and mentoring effort, we likely can all agree on the profound impact that gift of knowledge has had in our careers and lives. Don’t become discouraged by communication gaps that will inevitably exist amongst a diverse group of employees. You may have to step back, reassess, take a different approach, and get creative. Don’t let challenges dissuade you from: seeking out opportunities to pay it forward, bestowing your pearls of wisdom on the next generation of leaders, and ultimately creating your own peace of mind.
American Management Association. (2014, March 24). AMA Enterprise Research Lists 10 Trends Shaping Corporate Training, Development. Retrieved from http://www.amanet.org

Bersin, J. (2014, February 4). Spending on Corporate Training Soars: Employee Capabilities Now A Priority. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com

Deloitte Consulting LLP and Bersin by Deloitte. (2014). Global Human Capital Trends 2014: Engaging the 21st-century workforce. Deloitte University Press.

Ganapathy, S. (2014, September 1). 10 Millennial Personality Traits That HR Managers Can't Ignore. Retrieved from Mind Tickle: http://www.mindtickle.com

Silverman, R. E. (2012, October 26). So Much Training, So Little to Show for It. Wall Street Journal.

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