In these days of business uncertainty, coupled with the rise of the free agent nation, it is time to take a more comprehensive view of employee development. Gone are the days of seeing employee development and succession planning as separate functions. In order to remain competitive, organizations must combine the development plan of the organization, with that of each and every employee. This new approach is called Long-term Employee Development (LTED) and it has become a differentiator for great organizations looking to build their talent bench strength as well as add another layer of sophistication within their Employee Value Proposition, which will ultimately help them attract and retain the very best employees.
To successfully implement LTED, organizations must adopt a perspective that has been in the realm of sports and athletics for years. The concept of Long-term Athlete Development has been a staple for the progression of athletes across their competitive career it is crucial in helping the athlete, coaches, and sports officials understand the specific degree of training, modifications to the competitive environment, and the appropriate milestones to be achieved in order to progress to the next level of competition. This ensures that every athlete understands their path within the competitive environment, and how they must prepare themselves today, in order to ensure a greater level of success in future, higher levels of competition.
Organizations in the business arena should be no different. In fact, some organizations do take this rigorous, forward-looking approach to employee development, sadly, they are in the minority. The reality is that this clearly defined stage-gate approach is poorly understood and rarely utilized.
The goal of this paper is to help organizations understand not only the importance of developing a strategy and organizational ethic around Long-term Employee Development, but also to help educate them on how to implement it effectively.
Understanding the Process
Long-term Employee Development programs need not be a cumbersome, bureaucratic nightmare. In fact, if developed appropriately, they can and should be nimble, energizing, and even aspirational. Like any other new process within an organization, there will be a significant amount of effort required to get the process launched, however, as time passes and the ethic of employee development permeates the corporate culture, the program will slowly become self-sustaining.
When looking to implement an LTED program, the initial step is to reflect, with a critical eye, on where the organization currently sees itself with regard to strategy implementation, talent bench strength, and its place within the industry. Having this baseline will help point all of the organization’s talent programs in the right direction. As this step is completed, then, and only then, can the organization begin to implement an LTED program.
Launching, and maintaining the program covers five broad categories:
- Painting the Future – translating the organizational strategy into development paths
- Setting Developmental Growth Trajectories – customizing the journey for each employee
- Understanding the Phases of Development – preparing for higher levels of responsibility
- Performance Management – combining rigorous assessment with personal dialogue
- Ongoing Monitoring – realigning the program, and the candidate pool over time
Painting the Future
The first step to implementing a successful LTED program is to understand how it fits into an organization’s Succession Planning process as well as its Leadership and Management Development processes. Successful implementation of an LTED program starts with the organization spotting the skills and leadership capabilities it will will need 3-5 years into the future and ensuring that employees are giving sufficient time and access to development initiatives designed to engrain these capabilities long before they are needed.
The reality however, is that the approach most organizations take to employee development is the exact opposite. The approach these organizations take is akin to giving an individual a driver’s license, and then expecting them to learn to drive. LTED is the organizational equivalent to “Driver’s Ed” and helps ensure that each and every employee is aware of their potential future role, and prepared for it, long before they actually get the promotion.
In order to successfully navigate increasing levels of responsibility within an organization, employees must progress along what business thought-leader Ram Charan calls the Leadership Pipeline. At each turn in the pipe, an individual must develop and demonstrate new skills and behaviours which are appropriate to the new role. Comprehensive LTED programs prepare their employees for these “turns” and develop the employees’ skills in two streams – Leadership Capability, and Operational Knowledge. LTED programs must be administered in a way that introduces level-appropriate development initiatives.
Setting Developmental Growth Trajectories
The next step in the development of an LTED program is the creation of developmental growth trajectories. In reality, not every employee in your organization will move towards the organization’s future at the same pace, and some may not be appropriate for your organizations future at all. Recognizing where each employee fits is the essence of a developmental growth trajectory. Therefore, the organization must map out individual growth trajectories to ensure that each employee is able to be as effective as possible.
The second key aspect of the concept of growth trajectories is that LTED is a forward looking process, and that they must have a healthy appetite for uncertainty. While there is no guarantee as to how the future will unfold, organizations that make bold predictions are willing to reevaluate as time unfolds, and focuses on developing their employees have a clear advantage over those who don’t.
When setting an appropriate growth trajectory for an employee, many things must be taken into consideration. First off is determining where the particular employee is within the organization, and where that employee may end up in the future. Planning out an employee’s potential moves within the organization is a standard part of any succession planning. However, when an organization uses an LTED approach, this career path is matched up with an appropriate development path. Once this step is completed, the organization then determines the necessary skills, both leadership and operational that the particular employee must develop, in preparation for the next planned step in their career. Lastly, the development initiatives must be laid out on a timeline that allows the employee to receive the appropriate development at the appropriate pace.
Remember, there are no guarantees, and the organization must continually monitor and readjust. Not only that, some employees may encounter plateaus in their development, and the organization must ensure that contingency plans are put in place to keep key employees engaged. In this sense, implementing an LTED program is not for the faint of heart. In traditional training and development programs, course calendars are laid out at the beginning of the year, and only reassessed annually. In an LTED program, there are as many unique growth trajectories as there are employees, and the process must be monitored in real time.
Phases of Development
LTED programs are a combination of an organization’s succession planning process and its employee development process. With that in mind, it is important to continually monitor an employee’s progress and appetite for advancement throughout their involvement in the program. In order for an organization to ensure that the right employees are in line for the right positions, their LTED program must be structured in three phases of development – Introductory, Preparatory, and Mastery. These phases ensure that if an employee does not show the level of engagement, determination, and aptitude outlined in their development path, changes can be made. In other words, if an employee is not right for the job, they can be re-directed long before the original position comes available, thereby allowing time to prepare another candidate.
Understanding the Phases:
Introductory – the goal of this phase is to introduce candidates to a sample of the responsibilities, challenges, and behaviours that would be required of them in a more challenging role. This phase would typically be short in duration (2-4 sessions), and would conclude with an assessment of comprehension, as well as a questionnaire of the employee’s interest level in advancing within the organization.
Preparatory – the goal of this phase is to engage candidates in a thorough download of information, relevant to the specific requirements of more challenging roles. The instruction format would move away from the lecture-style approach of the Introductory Phase, to a more team based, and collaborative learning approach. This phase of the program would be longer in duration (6-8 sessions) and would give the candidate access to a mentor to help understand the contextual factors involved in a more challenging role within the organization.
Mastery – the goal of this phase is to ensure candidates have the ability to apply what they have learned from the earlier two phases by using strategic thinking skills. The instruction in this phase would be through observation in real on-the-job scenarios, and would tie into the organization’s Leadership Intern Program. This phase would give the candidate the opportunity to apply and hone their skills in non-business critical environments.
Organizations that make the decision to implement a Long-term Employee Development program understand that there is a high degree of ongoing assessment and evaluation involved. Performance Management is a critical component of any successful LTED program. Throughout the three development phases, and in conjunction with the employee’s daily responsibilities, the organization must understand each employee’s level of performance at all times. Only by having a continual process to monitor progress and effectiveness can an LTED Program ensure that the right candidate is moving towards a more challenging position and also embracing the right Leadership and Operational skills required to help move the organization forward.
The performance management process within the organization must, therefore, be:
Proactive – the organization has a responsibility to help guide, develop and prepare their employees in order to thrive in the future. Therefore, the organization must engage the employee regularly to ensure they know at all times, where they stand when compared to pre-determined performance standards. Taking a reactive approach only discourages candidates, and slows progress overall.
Objective – high potential employees seek out feedback on where they stand in relation to the organization’s standards, and those around them. Therefore, the organization must ensure that the measures they use to assess, evaluate, and at times rank their employees, are objective, and accurate. Otherwise, they risk alienating their truly top talent.
Evolving – any performance measures used to assess candidates must be relevant and timely. If the measures used are out of date, or are based on a standard that is no longer applicable, candidates cannot move towards the organization’s future. If the organization’s future demands a skill or capability that is not being measured, the organization, and its employees, will never achieve it.
Conclusion - Ongoing Monitoring
The last aspect to consider about Long-term Employee Development programs is that they are just that, long-term. While the organization may focus their operations or their sales cycles on calendar or fiscal years, LTED programs are less structured, and not necessarily tied to a particular timeframe. This concept must also be explained to the employees involved. They must understand that their development path may cover many months or years, and at the end there is no guarantee they will actually be the right candidate when the need arises. However, as stated earlier, by taking this approach, coupled with monitoring the organization’s industry, and the global business environment, organizations that build effective LTED programs will be far more likely to be successful than organizations who do not.
Great organizations also understand that employees who are prepared to accept new challenges will be more likely to succeed compared to employees who are thrown into a situation they cannot handle. By continually monitoring each employee’s progress through the program, an organization can make adjustments to the program and its timing, as needed, to ensure each employee’s effectiveness. To return to the sports comparison, great coaches ensure their athletes peak at the right time, and are ready to compete. Organizations must ensure the same for their employees. Employees must be ready to shine when the time is right.