How to Accellerate Executive Development

Only three percent of executives believe that their companies do a good job of developing talent. It's not surprising since most executives also think that development is a function of training programs. The fact is, training programs don't build good executives. Here's what we know about growing executives - what works and what doesn't work.

Job Design Does Matter

How executive jobs are designed makes a big difference. People grow faster when they have both freedom to act (scope and variety) and accountability (authority and responsibility).

Companies tend to leave executives in jobs too long. A succession of challenging assignments makes more sense. After a few years in one position, the learning curve flattens out.

The range of challenges is also important. Staff and line roles, different geographic assignments, and working with different bosses helps build adaptation skills and different perspectives. It rounds out development, giving a more complete view.

Exposure to highly capable people helps people learn and develop. The worst fate is to be stuck working for a mediocre boss or in a mediocre team for a long time.

Formal training can be helpful to teach fundamental management skills, strengthen culture, communicate strategy, build personal networks, and help with change, but it does not produce leadership skills.

Far more valuable is informal training in the form of feedback, coaching and mentoring. Feedback needs to be candid and based on different perspectives such as from 360° evaluations. Coaching and mentoring can be very effective but require the right skills and chemistry.

How to grow executives:

  1. Design development into your organization and job design. Growth opportunities depend on new opportunities that provide challenge and learning on a regular basis.
  2. Implement a rigorous system to identify talent. Equal growth for all is not a winning development strategy. Put in place a system to identify your best talent and give them the most effective growth opportunities. If you don't know who they are, you won't be able to grow them. Candid discussions are necessary to identify the strengths, weaknesses and short-term development needs of each executive. Without these, you will not have good feedback, coaching and mentoring.
  3. Provide Coaching. The best coaching goes well beyond personal needs to address specific organizational issues. The goal is to help achieve measurable results.
  4. Don't always look for the best-qualified candidate. Most times the person who will get the most out of a new assignment is someone who is almost, but not quite, ready. Introduce some risk into staffing decisions to accelerate development
  5. Remove roadblocks. Mediocre performers often block career paths and development opportunities from high potentials. People who don't have growth potential sap energy from high potentials and are often weak leaders. Removing them can open up a sizable range of opportunities for development.

The key is commitment and deliberate attention to using good information for the best decisions. The right policies and processes will result in better people, better development and better performance.