Performance of leadership talent in your organisation is not a given. In reality, the road to talent realising their potential is often unclear, with obstacles at many turns. However, fostering talent growth and performance across your organisation is fundamental to building organisational capability and leveraging strategic priorities. I invite you to consider the following examples and key ways to address common barriers and unlock talent performance, based on my insights from over two decades of coaching and developing leaders globally.
Support leaders to build effective organisational relationships. The regional MD for a global technical giant, with responsibilities for a business unit and two country leadership teams, demonstrated strong results delivery, along with exceptional external stakeholder management, and business development strengths. His manager, the VP for EMEA, and the Head of HR, however, described Mick as having limited progression support and possibly risking derailment due to his limited and sometimes negative relationships with key HQ leaders.
In many cases high potential leaders are uncertain about how to go about building mutually beneficial relationships with senior HQ leaders, often across cultures and long-distance. For many, adapting their approach for effective relationships in the wider organisational system may be unfamiliar and risky. For others, not knowing who they need to know and contact in a matrixed organisation and a feeling of fear or uncertainty may get in the way. To address these barriers, support and encourage leaders to build effective organisational relationships in a variety of ways. Are high level relationships in place where the leader needs them? Can existing relationships be leveraged to build new ones?
For Mick, coaching and a supportive manager and HR helped him apply his relationship-building skills differently. He adapted his interpersonal style to effectively build a broader network of key HQ stakeholders to exchange ideas, grow his understanding of their needs, challenges and imperatives, to collaborate and to gain their support. This included finding ways and opportunities, both face-to-face and using digital technology, for him to share the story of his region and to leverage and showcase his strengths and the contributions of people in his region, to set them up for success. He was promoted into a wider role within a year and has taken a lead in his region developing talent.
Build understanding on derailers and expectations. Transitioning to a bigger role at a more senior level brings with it new skill and performance expectations. Often leaders taking on a more senior role are unaware of the shift in focus from short-term, task and technical orientation with few stakeholder groups, towards increasingly conceptual, interpersonal, managing and leadership effectiveness, through to leading strategically, with multiple stakeholders and a long-term perspective in a highly complex and ambiguous external environment.
Sarah, a talented manager in a blue chip organisation known for her technical expertise, hands-on approach, and excellent results delivery, was promoted to an Australasia head of department role. In her new, wider people leadership role, she continued to apply and rely on the skills, hands-on approach, and attention to detail that had brought her success in the past. In addition, mixed messages from her two matrix managers contributed to her challenges. Concerns soon emerged from business unit leaders and employees, and it became clear that her over-use of strengths demonstrated in her previous role had become a liability. Coaching to help her confidently apply her conceptual skills in different ways and to effectively engage her team helped her make the shift to delivering results through others.
To set transitioning leaders up for success, communicate performance expectations and build understanding of potential derailers relating to your organisation's internal and external environment at the outset. Integrate appropriate ways to hold managers of talent accountable for developing talent and communicating expectations and direction clearly. A manager who pays superficial lip-service to talent development, who is reluctant to share information, build trust, and grow others is likely to have unproductive results over time.
Cultivate a performance enabling culture. A high-potential senior leader, site-based in Australia for a global FMCG organisation, is considering seeking employment elsewhere. With a track record of results and ongoing skill development, he has found that asking questions, offering innovative ideas, applying new skills, or politely challenging outdated policies can be risky. Autocratic leadership and a subtle blame culture are apparent at the site.
To retain talent and encourage skill application, fostering a performance-enabling culture is key. Use multiple approaches and clear communication to reinforce a culture that is conducive to learning, building trust, critical thinking, raising new ideas, innovation, appropriate information-sharing, and applying new skills to real work. Look for opportunities to mesh development with performance delivery, avoid spreading people too thin, and focus on goals that matter. Find ways to help talent access support for new behaviours and skills. Educate managers on how to use development strategies, to reward learning and open doors to new experiences. Build organisational support for talent development and help managers understand what is in it for them.
In a world where leaders must learn and adapt quickly, I hope these insights will be useful to you as you address obstacles and grow, sharpen, and sustain leadership talent performance across your organisation.