Employees start, get training, get better, get promoted, and then get left alone in their new roles to figure things out for themselves: DIY leadership. I hope it sounds familiar, because it is the norm. The best case scenario for many is a knowledge dump of unusable leadership models and company values during an offsite that, although inspiring, will never convert into productive action.
Some organizations handle employee to manager transitions amazingly though. For these companies it’s the most normal thing in the world. They recognize that it’s a totally different job, they manage expectations, select the right people, and make sure they are well-prepared for their first day. In summary, they onboard transitioning leaders just as they would new employees starting at the company.
It all really comes down to the ability to see the long-term gain of developing leaders continuously.
- Employee engagement: the employee – manager relationship is one of the most important deciding factors in whether people stay and whether they stay engaged. You don’t want to leave this up to chance.
- Vision and purpose: you can send more newsletters as your company grows, but having engaged leaders is really your best bet to communicate why your company exists and where it’s going. Their role as conduits is huge.
- Retention: getting a promotion is exciting for sure, but that excitement can quickly turn into helplessness and burn-out if you aren’t careful. Preparing leaders is a smart way to keep your best people.
The rush of what needs to get done in the short-term blinds many in at least 3 variations.
- Speed & time: story number 1 is a terrible excuse, but it is a reason: hyper growth or a lack of time. You grow so fast that you don’t have time to develop people and you are really hoping for plug-and-play hires and promotions. I wouldn’t play with fire and lose the talent that has gotten you to where you are though. Focusing on a continuous leadership program or mentorship will keep the rocket fueled up and flying in the right direction.
- Focus & awareness: story number 2 is one of focus and transition. Many companies focus on executing operations and delivering on the business plan so excellently that they forget to work on the people. This is something you can get away with temporarily and it’s also something that was less of an issue before the world became “VUCA“, but it is a time bomb. Do not overcorrect and defuse it with a one-time fancy leadership off-site or training.
- Culture & DIY-learning: story number 3 is one of ownership. Some companies, where leaders often still have operational or commercial duties, like law or consulting firms, have a culture of DIY and ownership of development lies with the individual. Although nothing tastes like freedom, the danger of misalignment, prima donnas, and frustrated consultants, who can often start somewhere else in a matter of days, is huge.
My advice is simple. No off-site or 1 week leadership program will have the effect you want, just like 1 evaluation a year with employees doesn’t have the effect you want (anymore). The recipe for strong and engaged leaders is the same as for engaged employees: continuous goals, feedback, and check-ins; ongoing attention around practical and inspiring topics they want and need to work on.
Whether you do this internally or externally via a company like We Belong is irrelevant. Just do it, but it needs to be an organizational goal and someone needs to own the results of the initiative. You can even just tack it on to an employee engagement, agile performance management, or continuous feedback culture program, but make sure to include every people manager all the way to the CEO.