One of the biggest challenges for professionals is gaining the experience they need to land the next position in their career.
This mirrors one of the biggest challenges for companies: 56% of executives report that their companies are not ready to meet leadership needs while 28% of executives rate their leadership pipelines as weak or very weak.
This crisis of ill-prepared leadership often stems from a lack of focus on identifying and cultivating your leadership pipeline — potential leadership talent who are being equipped to run your business in the future. In this situation, your company becomes vulnerable to lagging financial performance and competitiveness over time.
You Could Be Feeding The Problem
The experience gap in the leadership pipeline is evident in a number of situations, yet companies seem blind to the problems their actions create. Have you placed employees in a role that is very different from their functional and/or technical experience? Have you promoted employees from individual contributor to manager roles of sizable teams? Are millennials offered limited opportunities for personal development, making them less likely to stay long enough to grow in experience? Policies and practices such as these result in a limited “ready” pipeline to step up as positions open.
With a strategy and structure in place, these situations and costs to the business are avoidable. Build intentional experience-based development into your leadership development protocol and accelerate the readiness and value of your emerging leadership talent.
How To Hack The Experience Gap
1. Go beyond succession planning. Identifying talent succession is just one step in your process. For each role in your succession plan, map the alternate career paths successfully leading into each role. Make sure your plan takes into account the specific experience and skills an employee needs coming into a role to enable success. Also, identify the experience that needs to be gained from each role in order to prepare talent for succeeding roles. Avoid simply throwing people into a job to see if they can swim.
2. Start early in identifying talent and guiding experiences. If your succession plan or talent management process only focuses on more senior-level positions, you’re missing an opportunity. To have prepared senior leaders, development begins early and over the course of their careers. Identify high-potential talent early on and incorporate experience building opportunities into their career paths. Your up-and-coming millennials expect to know that there’s opportunity for them to advance. If they’re unsure, or opportunities are limited, they’re more likely to search for greener pastures.
3. Utilize a variety of methods for growing experience. Experience is built over time and can be achieved through a variety of sources. You may not have the luxury of open positions to move high-potential talent into as timely as would be ideal. Yet, you need to continue development and continue to offer new challenges. Following are some alternative approaches I suggest to clients. Employees will gain experience in areas such as leading and working with a team, project management, presentation skills and managing project budgets.
• Special projects. Small task groups are often initiated to help implement important company or department initiatives. Recommend employees to lead or to be part of the project team. When I worked for GE, special projects often targeted reducing costs or improving process quality or efficiency. These cross-functional projects were often led by junior-level employees or Lean Six Sigma Green Belts.
• Company service projects. Many companies support their communities by sponsoring volunteer projects with local nonprofits. These may be short term, such as one-day fixer uppers, or longer term, such as a reading program with a local school. These are great opportunities for employees to develop skills by joining the planning committee or working with teams at an event.
• Employee resource groups. Companies sponsor these groups as resources for personal career development and employee engagement. Companies I work with call them employee resource groups (ERGs), special interest groups (SIGs) or affinity groups. Employees can gain experience and develop leadership skills by serving as an officer, chair, or member of a standing committee or event committee. My leadership involvement in GE’s affinity groups helped me gain valuable experience for my career progression.
• Nonprofit organizations and professional associations. Nonprofits and professional associations often need people with a variety of skills to serve on boards or as volunteers. Partner with local nonprofits and recommend your emerging talent to serve with them. As the board chair for a Girl Scout council, I know firsthand the need for talented professionals to lead committees and engage in making decisions that will move our council forward.
4. Encourage employees to share ownership. The responsibility to hack the experience gap does not fall solely on the company. Employees share ownership in this goal. However, many professionals I work with don’t know how to solve their personal experience gap.
As professionals determine their career goals, they should evaluate the experience needed to progress. Then, working with their manager, HR professional and mentor, map out a plan using a variety of sources to get the experience they need. The company must set the stage for this to work. Work with leaders and HR professionals to create a culture that is open to employees planning and discussing their career goals and needs. Be receptive to employees stepping up with interest in the alternative experience approaches noted above. Encourage employees to engage in this partnership.
Look for places in your organization where the experience gap exists. Where are the opportunities in your process? Choose a starting point and begin putting these strategies to work to hack your experience gap.
By Vivian Hairston Blade
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