Employee EngagementLearning & Development

The Great Retention Challenge

Even foot soldiers can benefit from leadership training.

By Sandi Edwards
Companies will be challenged this year to hold onto high-performing employees. The top talent in any organization is a high-value asset, and the best performers always have options. Employers who take them for granted are risking their whole enterprise. The joint goal of sustaining and growing the business depends upon how well management engages, motivates, and develops these valuable people. Yet it seems that many employers are not focusing intently enough on the likely retention problems as the economy improves.

Some savvy companies, however, are anticipating the challenge and using leadership development as a way to reach out to high-potential workers. These organizations are targeting key people and giving them customized programs based on their particular needs and goals. Management’s intention is that such people will see both that their contribution is recognized and that they will have a great future with the organization. In particular, managers are making efforts to help these high-value contributors to understand their role in the organization’s future success.

Organizations, if they haven’t done so, must first assess their people and identify the top performers. Who are the top talent and what do they contribute? What do they want from the company so that they can continue to do their jobs with a full commitment? Leadership development can play a pivotal role in the entire process.

The imperative of enabling high performers comes at a time when training and development resources are at a premium. While it would be ideal if all employees had these opportunities, when capital is being rationed this is not really possible.

An interesting aspect of the process is that, in the past, high-potential workers were usually provided with coaching, but increasingly this individual attention is being positioned as “leadership development,” even when the substance is in some ways the same as coaching. It seems that being designated an “emerging leader” can have more holding power than merely being assigned a coach.

Leadership development has been important for many decades. But in the last 10 years, a major distinction has emerged, with a growing emphasis on developing global leadership competencies. It is abundantly clear that no big firm can be successful without a global business perspective. A great deal of attention is being paid to cracking the code in perfecting global leadership, irrespective of industry or company size. Doing business requires operating in a marketplace that is global, no matter where one is headquartered. Top management is pressed to find ways to improve performance and to do so with greater consistency and effectiveness. This means that upcoming leaders need to have a broader skill set, one that equips them to think and act globally.

For 87 years, AMA has helped managers and leaders become stronger communicators and overseers. Of particular importance in our curricula today are critical thinking, strategic planning, executive leadership, and management skills such as coaching, financial literacy, and project management.

From our experience, the most widely taught competencies included in global leadership programs are critical thinking and problem solving, change management, building and leading cross-cultural teams, ability to influence and build coalitions, and execution of global strategies. But research we have conducted in this area found that these were not necessarily the ones that correlated most highly with market performance or global leadership effectiveness. Among the most highly correlated competencies were agility and adaptability to manage global shifts, expansion of the organization’s brand in local and global commerce, as well as innovation management.
Recent research by AMA casts light on who participates in leadership development. While a small percentage of employers offer leadership development across the board, the great majority includes only senior people.
What level of employee in your organization participates in your most
high-profile leadership development programs? (Select all that apply.)

  • Executive Vice President 45.3%
  • Vice President 62.5%
  • Director 64.6%
  • Targeted high potential 61.8%
  • Manager 51.2%
  • Open to anyone in the organization 9.5%
  • Not applicable 2.1%

Source: “Developing Successful Global Leaders,” American Management Association and I4cp, 2010.
Although leadership programs are relatively exclusive, other kinds of development opportunities are almost always more widely available. Those who distinguish themselves in such programs can in turn be targeted for leadership ones. Everyone can’t be on the “all-star” team, but everyone can strive to get there.
That’s why the need to retain and develop top performers increasingly accounts for leadership programs being the fastest-growing segment in the field.
Sandi Edwards is senior vice president of American Management Association corporate learning Ssolutions.

Tags: Employee Engagement, Learning & Development

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