Developing Talent

Taking business to the next level relies strongly on talent.

“…While financial results, market share, brand and legacy products all have a half-shelf-life, talent is the only competency that endures.” -Ram Charan, noted author and advisor to companies around the world).

Built around common passages that all leaders go through, from individual contributor to running entire businesses, “The Leadership Pipeline” (now in its second edition) is Charan’s primer that introduced us to an important internal architecture for developing and nurturing leaders.

Yet when we look at how well prepared organizations are, only 15 percent of executives are confident in their leadership pipelines. In addition, a systematic focus on defining the knowledge, skills and related development required by leaders as they move from one level to the next is often nonexistent.

Here are 3 strategies to consider in nurturing that all-important pipeline:

1. Identify high-potential talent and then accelerate their development.

Gen Xers and Gen Yers have high expectations for career development, very different than the expectations of Baby Boomers. “Millennials require exponentially more advice and forward-thinking direction on a consistent basis,” according to Louis Carter, founder and chief executive officer of Best Practices Research. To keep you best talent, accelerate their development.

Companies often express a concern that these high-potential programs could adversely impact turnover because acceleration would not be fast enough. However, Becton Dickenson found turnover among participants was lower than among non-participants, and BD credits the program’s success to all development being aligned with the real work of the business. In addition, if you don’t develop them, they will leave, so develop your leaders.

2. Create future-focused leadership potential criteria.

A high level of performance and bottom-line results is a given for our future leaders, but performance is not the sole driver of leadership potential. Given the VUCA* culture we have today (which is only likely to accelerate), each organization needs to create a roadmap for leadership pipeline competencies that reflects what success will look like in 10, 15 and 20 years for its talent, geographies and industry – no easy task.

*Definition of VUCA:

  • V = Volatility
    The nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • U = Uncertainty
    The lack of predictability, the prospects for surprise, and the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • C = Complexity
    The multiplex of forces, the confounding of issues and the chaos and confusion that surround an organization.
  • A = Ambiguity
    The haziness of reality, the potential for misreads, and the mixed meanings of conditions; cause-and-effect confusion.

Here are some important qualities to consider as a part of that criteria:

  • A high tolerance for ambiguity and complexity – a propensity to problem solve, think critically, pause and listen before acting, and a quest for looking outside the company.
  • Strong learning orientation – a true thirst for acquiring knowledge and skills on one’s own, seeking out mentors and opportunities on the job at different levels and functions to tackle new assignments.
  • Self-awareness – the ability to learn from mistakes, to grow and develop despite not being always the star or achieving successful results, to seek out others to augment one’s talents.
  • “Other” centeredness – the ability to listen to others, learn and appreciate diversity in teams (including factors such as gender, ethnicity, race, culture, ideas, and even healthy conflict); this is critical to the success of future leaders and to balance an organization’s culture and create a place where people want to work, learn and achieve excellence.

3. Support leaders and professionals at every level.

Tailoring the development focus for each passage that a leader goes through, from first-level management through more-senior roles aligned with the expectations of what those levels mean, what challenges the person will face; these passages present a great architecture to plan the development roadmap. With a combination of self-development (webinars, eLearning), workshops, peer coaching, mentors/career advisors and the all-important on-the-job activities, development plans can be rich in learning for each passage and help organizations grow and retain top talent.


  • The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company, by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel, 2d Edition, 2011, John Wiley and Sons
  • 3 Ways to Keep the Leadership Pipeline Full, by Lena J. Weiner, Health Leaders Media, November 3, 2014
  • Securing a Strong Leadership Pipeline, by Ladan Nikravan, Talent Management Magazine, December 29, 2011
  • BD: Building a Leadership Pipeline Early, by Katie Kuehner-Hebert, Chief Learning Officer Magazine, April 24, 2014
  • DDI 2014 Global Leadership Forecast
  • Best Practices Institute, Louis Carter, founder and chief executive officer

If you are interested in reading more on developing leaders within your company see our post on building your leadership bench with mentoring, and for more on developing future leaders read our ebook “Future Leadership Development” for our take on developing leaders prepared for the digital age.

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