Any consultant will tell you that 2009 was a disaster. It probably goes on record as the worst nightmare for anyone doing training or leadership development in the US, myself included. But something happened that year that fascinates me to no end. At the time, I was a partner with a global firm. In the US, no one was developing leaders. Doors were slamming in every direction as companies cut training and development and simply had no budget to develop leaders. In our London office, however, business was booming. Companies there, repeatedly told us that in bad times, they needed to increase their ability to develop leaders. As the margin for error shrank, leadership development became a primary focus for many companies in Europe. To them, it was a no brainer.
Since 2009, our economy has decidedly improved, but we will likely never see the excess of years past. The need to do more with less remains critical and prioritization of resources has become a key topic for every budgeting cycle I’ve been a part of since. This year, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had companies tell me they’re not focused on development because there are so many people in the job market. It seems that at a time when everyone is struggling to do more with less, the need to think hard about managing and developing talent has gone away with the war for talent. I would argue that this time, we may need to shift our thinking and learn something from the European companies. Now is the time to revolutionize the way we think about developing talent –it is incredibly short sighted to do any less.
This is another case of an adaptive challenge – something that can only be improved by thinking differently, rather than doing what is already being done better, faster or cheaper. Leaders at all levels need to make some radical changes in how they think about talent. For starters, the focus on people needs to rise to the top of the priority list…right up there with alignment. If your organization or HR department doesn’t have a formal talent management process, shame on them. But you still need one.
All leaders need to be thinking about how to grow and develop the talent on their team. If you’re thinking that will make them more marketable, yes it will. That’s the point. It may sound counter-intuitive, but research shows that the more people feel they have the ability to grow and develop their skills, the more likely they are to stay with a company. If you’re creating alignment and they are working toward to your vision, their success will enable you to be more effective. If you’re thinking they might leave you for another department, they might. But in the process, you get known as a developer and exporter of great talent. Word spreads and all the good people will want to work with you.