Employee Leadership Programs

Employers understand the need to hire quality talent. A business exists to earn profits and grow. But to do both, it needs capable and efficient people holding key roles and executing important processes. That is why businesses focus on acquiring the best talent, whether through an in-house mechanism or via third parties like a staffing agency.

Of course, while having talented workers on your payroll is a huge advantage, it is not enough on its own. Businesses, especially those with larger workforces, often find the need for employees in positions to guide the workforce, and by extension the business, to sustainable and consistent success. In other words, workers need leaders.

Why Recruiting Workers Is Different From Having Leaders

Typically, it is much harder to recruit a business leader than it is to recruit a highly skilled and experienced worker. Why? The answer is not as concrete as it might seem. For better or worse, there are no sure indicators, at least in the early stages, that set natural leaders apart from workers.

It very rarely has anything to do with the obvious signs you might look for: college education, high IQ scores, or even extensive industry experience. This is not to take away from people who have these qualities; knowledge, skills, and expertise are essential in nearly every workforce. Leaders bring something more to the proverbial table, however.

Natural leaders have that magic mix of intelligence, innovation, courage, inspiration, and most importantly, determination, that elevates them to a leadership position. But they may also be very rare to find, or in many cases, may have latent potential that is often overlooked.

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You may not be able to send out an advert for “business leader”, but you may already have one working in a role with less utility to the business. The practical option for a growth-oriented business is to find and create leaders within its existing workforce. Employee leadership programs are one of the most effective measures for this goal. Here are a few key places to start building a program that works:

Map Out and Define Leadership Needs

The very first step is to define the goals you want to achieve with your leadership development program. In other words, you need to understand the leadership gaps in your business that you need to develop employees to take over. Given the huge number of competitors in virtually every industry and niche, it’s not unheard of to lose valuable business leaders to other organizations. Alternatively, you could have an older generation of business leaders headed for retirement. In either case, you’ll be able to identify upcoming gaps in leadership positions.

This should give you the ideal starting point. List down the attributes you would need in a leader to effectively fill that role. This may also include any characteristics that can add even more value to the existing role. Compare this leadership need to short-term and long-term business goals.

If you’re trying to grow, you want leaders willing to drive that growth. If you’re in survival mode, you need leaders with the acumen to see you through to the other side. This will help you refine the attributes and skills you desire in an employee taking over specific leadership roles.

Value Development Over Training

Remember, you can’t “manufacture” a leader through a rigid training program. And you can’t source them specifically like you would reach out for talent through a firm offering mortgage staffing solutions. You may be able to teach them new skills or knowledge, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be able to apply them. A leadership development initiative is not like a training program. Its success depends heavily on you placing employees in key positions that allow them to learn new skills as well as offer them opportunities to apply those skills.

Many development programs focus on granting autonomy to potential leaders. Essentially, they can step up and take the initiative in the absence of other leaders. Putting potential leaders in positions to make leadership calls, accompanied by the risks and rewards, is an important learning experience. This doesn’t just empower them with the confidence to make decisions but also gives them valuable experience in guiding diverse teams toward a shared goal. Unlike training, this usually involves a baptism by fire in real-world situations.

Expand Your Definition of a Potential Leader

As you begin to refine your leadership program, you’ll find that it is virtually impossible to frame a standard definition around leaders. Thanks to growing workforce diversity as well as advancing technology, you may have many more potential leaders already working for you than you realize.

The trick is to identify them among the rest of the talent in your workforce. Again, the most obvious indicators such as higher education, likeability, and experience are no guarantees. You will most likely find that you’ll have to expand your initial leader persona to be more inclusive.

A successful program should theoretically be able to find and polish anyone with the right leadership potential in your workforce. However, don’t be surprised if you come across people with immense potential who are not willing to take up more responsibility. There’s nothing wrong with being comfortable with what you do.

Just ensure that the program can identify them and empower them in ways that still benefit the company. For example, you could designate a potential engineering leader to work closely with your engineer staffing agency to ensure better hiring. This will not disrupt their comfort, while still increasing the benefit they bring to your business.

Set Up Metrics to Measure Program Success

Frequently measuring success and adjusting strategies are key ingredients for sustainable business growth. The same applies to your efforts to cultivate leaders among your workforce. Your leadership development policies and their success need to be measured objectively, allowing you to adjust the program where necessary. While these metrics may vary from business to business and program to program, the following should always be part of them:

  • The number of people signing up for the program.
  • The number of people successfully completing the program.
  • The increase in a worker’s leadership responsibilities.
  • Peer feedback on the employees who completed the program.

Focus On Retaining Your Leaders

Virtually all talent acquisition strategies operate under the guiding principle of employee retention. The same applies to the people who complete leadership programs in your business. Whether in time or money or in both, you invest in a program to develop future leaders, gearing your business up for growth. That means your already valuable talent will now have even more valuable leadership skills, and you can be sure headhunters will start reaching out to them.

Your leadership development program, therefore, should not simply focus on creating business leaders. It should also focus on helping leaders buy into your business goals and absorb company values. In other words, you don’t want to just create leaders, but leaders who are loyal to your business. Therefore, the retention aspect should always be a core focus of any leadership program.

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