Which Employee Has What It Takes To Fill Your Shoes?
The goal is to build future leaders, so organizations are looking to develop and retain top talent at all levels. Some companies have designed formal talent-management programs, while others (more informally) have a watchful eye on providing the right opportunities for their “high potentials.” Often it is the line managers who are scouting the talent and guiding them to higher levels of visibility and opportunity.
But what exactly are managers looking for? What do they see as they coach and develop their employees?
When we asked managers how they identify future leaders, they agreed that the workforce has many talented and hardworking people but that there are certain people who stand out from the rest. The managers we spoke with were quick to point out the differences between “good employees” and “the talent to watch” — the latter do the following:
- They look beyond themselves
Managers take notice of employees who are aware of the larger organizational picture, who think of their jobs not just in terms of their own immediate goals. “They look for ways to provide benefits more broadly to the organization and they take into account everyone’s needs,” notes Julie Northfield, Training and Development Manager at Amlin Underwriting Ltd. (a syndicate of Lloyds of London). “They look at where their role fits in with Amlin, and where Amlin fits in the Lloyds world.” This observation is confirmed by Carl Dunbar, Vice President of Technology and Operations at AmerisourceBergen Corp: “They don’t sit in a vacuum, they understand the bigger picture.”
- They are team players
It seems so obvious — but in many organizations teams will routinely form and disband with each project. Often there is a shuffling of responsibilities and sometimes egos, as the potential stars come onto a team with a willingness to participate, to involve people, and to take on projects and tasks as needed. Dunbar observes, “It’s about being part of the team and involving all team members. They listen to ideas as well as present ideas. And they stay positive, even when the team may be struggling.”As team members, these are the employees that don’t just do what they are told to do — they look for other ways to add value as they focus on honing and developing their skills. “They look at all the other job functions when they come onto a team and they want to learn the other jobs,” notes Coven. “As they interact they are asking: ‘What can I do for them? What can they do for me? What can I learn?'”
- They are thoughtful risk-takers
Never complacent with the status quo, potential leaders are willing to take calculated risks. They have the competence and confidence to try new things and tackle difficult challenges. “There are a lot of good people who work hard, but you need to be noticed. Take risks. Accept responsibility if things go wrong,” offers Dunbar, and he speaks from experience. He was noticed when he took on a tough challenge as a new employee; by beating an aggressive deadline he earned the respect and recognition that propelled his career forward.Those who are identified as high potentials are also advocates for themselves. They know what they want to achieve and will present a persuasive business case for why their department and company will benefit from achieving the goal. “They will talk about how their desires align with business goals and objectives,” says Coven, “and they are constantly thirsting for opportunities and looking for the next challenge — things for them to own and on which to demonstrate initiative.”
- They are good communicators
All agree that you need to be an effective communicator to get noticed. And that doesn’t mean that just the outgoing, gregarious personalities get noticed. The ability to clarify ideas and concepts, to be persuasive when presenting ideas, and to convince people to join you in your pursuit of these ideas is essential, regardless of the personality type. “I look for people who can give and take feedback, communicate well, and influence people,” notes Northfield. Not surprisingly, many of these talented employees are also good at networking. They routinely expand their network and influence others by sharing ideas and experiences, and by building communities within their workgroups.
How can you develop your rising stars?
Top managers tell us that one of the most rewarding aspects of their jobs is developing their people — guiding them to achieve their maximum potential. The difference in working with high potentials is not so much that you do anything significantly different than you would do to develop all your employees, but rather it’s the focus and intensity that you apply to these individuals. And experience indicates that the time and effort spent on these key individuals will bring a significant return on your efforts. When guiding your rising stars, managers can:
- Look for opportunities to help them shine. As a manager you have influence and access to information about projects and initiatives outside of your work area. Be on the lookout for opportunities that can leverage the key strengths of your high-potential employees and at the same time provide an opportunity to develop new skills and contribute to your organization’s goals.
- Provide a safety net when they try new things. Giving them a stretch assignment is fine and necessary, but there is risk involved in stretching. Make sure that they know that a net is nearby, and be willing to debrief the assignment to focus on the successes and areas for improvement.
- Be their PR agent. Let your colleagues know about the significant accomplishments of your team members. It will keep your best employees top of mind when new projects surface. An added benefit is that it will build the trust and confidence of your employees. As Coven observes, “The people who move up the quickest are the ones who had a manager who was an active participant in making this happen.”
- Challenge their thinking. Help them think of other ways to approach a problem or solution that will not only address the immediate need but can also be applied to other areas of the organization. Encourage them to take a broader view: what else can they do, who else can benefit from the project at hand, with whom should they be networking to advance their ideas?
Organizations and managers agree that there is no mystery to identifying and developing top talent. The magic is in the results — the organization gains great leadership and retains key talent, you gain a reputation for spotting and developing the best and the brightest, and your best employees grow and blossom into skilled and thoughtful leaders.
If you want your team to win the high jump, find one person who can jump seven feet; not seven people who can jump one foot.”