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    Critical Tools for Development Success – External Perspective and Personalization

    Growing up in the mountain west, most of my friends learned to ski at an early age. My family, however, focused on backpacking and summer adventures, so I went off to college without skiing in my repertoire. When I was in my 30’s, I decided it was time to learn. And, in preparing to do so, I received two valuable pieces of advice:

     

    1. Find an expert to help you learn the fundamentals – don’t rely on family and friends to teach you.
    2. Although a group lesson may give you some basics, 1:1 help will really pinpoint your skill gaps and accelerate your abilities.

     

    This counsel has served me well, not only in learning new sports, but also as it translates into my work life.

     

    Workplace adventures

    Top HR leaders spend significant time and energy thinking about the future: the future of the business, the future skills required, the talent implications this brings, and then the strategy to ensure there is a ready flow of prepared leaders to fill the vacated or newly created roles.  They also think about how to retain their top talent – especially the “core leaders” who influence widely and are at the heart of change within an organization. HR leaders know it is critical to keep challenging these individuals so that they can continue to grow and take on more responsibility.

     

    Applying the lessons from my ski adventures to developing core leaders in the organization, I’d like to offer this advice:

    1. Consider the benefits of an external perspective
    2. Personalizing development will accelerate the impact

     

    External Perspective

    Coming out of talent or succession discussions, armed with a list of developmental to-do’s, HR partners can have the “Now what?” feeling. Working with high potential employees to create a development plan with teeth requires thought, planning, and commitment. In some cases, leaders are exceptional at helping their direct reports identify goals and build actionable plans. Many look to their HR business partners to help them identify growth opportunities. Or, thinking about how to address this in a more systemic way, some organizations bring in experienced Coaches to work 1:1 to foster development and provide the benefits of an external perspective.

     

    Leadership Coaches serve many roles in supporting talent development, such as thought partner, confidence booster, champion of growth, voice of experience, provider of tools and resources, and external sounding board. The key to maximizing development for this talent pool is ensuring that Coaches are aligned with the company’s culture to support the internal tools and concepts critical to success.

     

    And what makes an external perspective helpful? Managers often have questions or situations they would like counsel on but aren’t comfortable asking their own manager. Maybe the situation is managing up and being more effective in advocating on behalf of their team to their manager and others. Perhaps they are looking for new ideas and resources. They may want to dive deep into a particular focus area and discuss multiple approaches. They could also want guidance working through a 360 assessment view or self-assessment and recognizing opportunities that arise.

     

    Personalizing development

    The other key is ensuring that there is not a “one size fits all” mentality to development or even to competencies. Some companies have formal leadership competency models that clearly describe the behaviors expected. Others use widely available research-based models and focus on those that resonate within the culture. Some focus on internal role models and tell stories about the types of leaders that have helped transform, sustain, or grow a company. All of these are helpful tools in identifying a company’s relevant leadership behaviors and then translating them into development plans — on an individual level.

     

    Let’s take an example: two core leaders, Ky and Callum, are both told they need to “work on their executive presence.”

     

    Ky has a reputation for being smart and decisive and can simplify complex data into clear bullet points, but she doesn’t always navigate the politics well – especially with her peers. She can stand up and deliver a presentation to a group, but she struggles to “take people with her” and champion the ideas of others.

     

    In Callum’s case, he has received feedback that people love to work for him, and he is exceptional at giving feedback and developing his team. However, he can appear unprepared when he meets with senior leaders, lacks confidence in backing up his assertions with details, and does not present visually powerful slides.

     

    The specific goals, measures of success, and actions will be highly customized to each of them.

     

    Both will be working on aspects of their executive presence, but their individual journeys will look very different.

     

    Having an external perspective combined with personal development is what makes this possible.

     

    What would be the impact you would see if you applied an external perspective and personalized development for the Core Leaders in your organization?

     

    We’d be happy to explore the options with you!

     

    Kelly Leatherwood
    About the Author:

    Kelly works with L&D, HR, and corporate university leaders to develop scalable coaching programs for leaders around the world. She has had the opportunity to leverage her background in organizational development, executive coaching, performance consulting, and change management to build programs that fit the company culture.