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How Talent Activation Fuels Leadership Development

Mindy Honcoop
on April 27, 2023

According to Gallup research, 70% of employees say that managers are the most significant factor causing disengagement. It’s common knowledge that employees leave managers, not companies. It’s not surprising that a recent Gartner study found that “Leader and manager effectiveness is the most frequent top priority (60% of respondents) among HR leaders for 2023“. Yet, “24% of HR leaders say their leadership development approach does not prepare leaders for the future of work“. Influential managers are not born with the ability to manage. Instead, they require the right learning opportunities to succeed. Businesses and employee needs are changing rapidly, and leadership programs must evolve to drive workplace well-being. Talent activation is one way to refresh leadership development programs to meet the evolving needs of managers.

Why is Talent Activation Important for Leadership Development? 

Leadership development is more than training leaders on specific skills or competencies. It’s about selecting the right humans to lead, nurturing their potential, and creating an environment that fosters continuous learning, growth, and improvement. Talent activation can be crucial in refreshing your current development program by providing a comprehensive framework for identifying and developing leaders who can inspire, engage, and drive results. This shift in mindset ensures programs tailor-build skills, behaviors, and resources to equip managers at the moment they need it most. This results in managers who are capable of inspiring and engaging their team members, fostering a culture of innovation and creativity, and leveraging each team member’s unique talents to deliver positive business results.

A Focus on Continuous Learning 

With a mindset of continuous learning, leaders increase their capability to embrace a growth mindset and view every challenge or setback as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Historically, manager programs were a one-time in-person event or static online training. Without proper coaching or timely practice of the learning material, the concepts learned decay in a short amount of time. Talent activation provides a tailored and blended learning experience incorporating coaching and a culture of real-time feedback to support a leader’s journey at the company to meet their unique needs. A culture of feedback trains leaders not only to provide feedback to team members but also to ask for specific feedback from them. Specific feedback on one to two areas of improvement allows leaders to be human and provides permission for employees to share.

Often, leaders will ask for feedback, but without context, employees will remain silent, or provide irrelevant input. Feedback provides the manager with signals to see what changes are working. Continuous learning also emphasizes the need for leaders to set aside time to engage in ongoing development activities such as workshops, seminars, and webinars that keep them updated with the latest industry trends and best practices. By fostering a culture of continuous learning, leaders learn how to support their teams’ evolving needs and growth and drive organizational change.

Empower Leaders to Drive Change 

Leadership is not just about managing people; it’s also about fostering team collaboration that drives organizational change and innovation. Talent activation emphasizes this balance. First, it is important that when promoting internal talent into leadership roles, measures are put in place for leaders to maintain this balance successfully. Onboarding should be if it sets expectations for ramping managers and transitions duties from their prior role elsewhere. If not done properly, managers remain in the details and lack time to build the necessary strategic and people manager muscle to provide team success.

Leadership programs must prepare managers to drive the appropriate level of change in the organization. Managers must understand how to orchestrate people skills while maintaining team health to achieve individual, team, and business goals. Talent activation provides managers the autonomy to manage in a way that leverages their unique strengths to accomplish change. Some of the key elements in training should prepare managers to remove organizational blockers, avoid team burnout, evolve team skills to remain relevant in the future, foster team behaviors that challenge the status quo, think critically, and take calculated risks. Additionally, managers need to foster a culture of accountability and ownership.

Building an Accountability Culture

To enable innovation, development programs need to train managers to build a culture of trust and collaboration. Then they can coach employees to take ownership of their work and provide them with the resources they need to succeed. This can be done by setting clear expectations at the individual and team level. Expectations should also guide the interactions and behaviors of the team. Once expectations are set, managers must provide regular feedback in consistently scheduled 1:1’s and team meetings. In those meetings, managers should create meaningful connections by showing genuine interest and care for their direct reports. Managers should empower team members to take ownership and responsibility for their work. Managers can accomplish this by giving them autonomy to make decisions. Additionally, managers need to provide a positive and supportive environment for their team members by providing ongoing support and resources.

Gallup finds that companies fail to choose the manager candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time

SOURCE: Gallup: Why Great Managers Are Rare?

Identifying Leadership Skills

Workplaces continue to miss the mark in upskilling their current talent for leadership roles. Individual contributors continue to move into leadership roles based on tenure and successful performance as an individual.

Gallup’s data noted that “one in 10 people possess high talent to manage and another two in 10 people exhibit some characteristics of functioning managerial talent and can function at a high level if their company invests in coaching and developmental plans for them”. SOURCE: Gallup: Managers Account for 70% of the Variance in Employee Engagement

Talent activation starts with identifying the skills and associated behaviors required of leaders at all levels. Programs can use data-driven assessments, performance reviews, and feedback mechanisms to identify these potential leaders internally and externally.

Internally, this level of clarity can provide workplaces with the knowledge to provide targeted development opportunities for internal talent. This can include mentoring, coaching, job rotations, and stretch assignments that challenge them to stretch their skills and capabilities. These experiences and resources enable workplaces to see the potential of an individual to take on more significant responsibilities and contribute to the organization’s strategic objectives while orchestrating and maintaining team health. These experiences also allow the potential leader to understand what it means to lead and if this is what they want to do next in their career.

Align Leadership Development with Business Strategy

Talent activation makes sure leadership development matches the organization’s overall business strategy. It doesn’t just do generic training. For example, if the company is expanding, the leadership development program would focus on skills like strategic thinking, change management, and innovation. If the company is having trouble with employee engagement or retention, the leadership development program will focus on skills like emotional intelligence, communication, and employee empowerment. By matching the program to the company’s needs, talent activation ensures leaders have the right skills to succeed.

Create Measures for Success

Now that the leadership program is aligned with strategic business initiatives. How can HR know if it is making a difference? Leadership development is not cheap. It requires an investment of money and time. It’s important to define clear and measurable objectives for the leadership development program upfront and regularly review and assess the program’s outcomes against those objectives to measure its success effectively. Customized evaluation methods may be needed based on the specific goals, context, and characteristics of the leadership development program and the organization. Measuring the success of a leadership development program can be done using methods such as employee feedback surveys, team performance metrics, team turnover rates, absenteeism and sick leave rates, 360 feedback, increase in career promotions and advancement.

Enhancing Leadership Development with Digital Augmentation

Leadership programs often overlook the need for practical training that helps managers navigate an organization’s specific resources and processes. Often, this is because ‌organizational processes, procedures, and systems are continuously evolving, and keeping training up to date is time-consuming. This is where digital AI chatbots to support leadership development can come in handy.

An intelligent assistant can help managers in their day-to-day work by answering common questions and directing them to the appropriate tools. For example, if a manager’s employee needs counseling, the chatbot can quickly point them to a virtual counseling program that is available 24/7. If a manager needs to conduct a difficult performance conversation, the chatbot can provide coaching on the appropriate steps and tips on how to hold this conversation best. An AI assistant can also provide tailored messaging to managers before organizational change initiatives to prepare them to support employees through the change. Furthermore, an AI assistant can serve as a coach to augment workplace training by using pulse surveys to reinforce learning and positive habit change.