In the midst of the Great Resignation and Great Migration, attracting and retaining talent is harder than ever. Willis Towers Watson reports:
73% of employers are having significant challenges attracting employees and 61% are finding it challenging to retain their current workforce.
Climbing wages and increased remote working opportunities are forcing employers to reevaluate how they compete in the today’s market. To survive the Great Resignation and avoid detrimental business impacts, employers must pivot and focus inward on the Great Retention (Willis Towers Watson).
Many employers are developing new internal strategies to attract and retain talent including: internal promotion opportunities, off-cycle pay increases, higher wages, improved healthcare benefits, offering more paid time off and increased workplace flexibility (Willis Towers Watson’s 2021 Talent Attraction and Retention Survey, 2021).
Of note, research supports that the top driver of employee retention is providing opportunities for career growth and professional development. Promoting employees is a proven method to increase internal capabilities, create loyalty to the company and ultimately retain key talent.
When employees are promoted, it benefits both employees and employers. The employee is gaining new skills and experiences that support their career and development goals while the employer gains an established performer and culture fit to fill the vacant role. Further, employers realize a drastically shorter learning curve than hiring a new employee with no historical knowledge or experience with the company.
A specific barrier in many companies is the promotional step from individual contributor to leader. It’s not uncommon for employers to want to fill leadership positions with someone who has prior experience leading a team. However, by establishing this as a threshold employers risk losing talented individual contributors who desire to grow into a leadership position as their career path. A risk many employers can’t afford take in today’s talent climate! To mitigate this retention risk, employers need to look inward at their high-performing individual contributors who have never managed others and groom them for a leadership role in the company.
This specific promotion scenario requires intention, planning and oversight to minimize disruption, mitigate risk and avoid impact to productivity and morale. There is a natural disruption that occurs within any team when a new leader is named, however this can be much more tumultuous if that leader doesn’t have the skills necessary to motivate, inspire and lead the team. Put bluntly, this is not the time for a sink-or-swim onboarding approach. Employers must be intentional to support the onboarding and training of new leaders and avoid damaging impacts to the company, their team and other key employees.
Being an effective leader requires different skills to be successful than those needed to be an effective individual contributor. As stated in the Leadership Pipeline:
“Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the transition is that first time managers are responsible for getting work done through others rather than on their own.”
What criteria is most important when assessing an employee’s leadership potential?
The list below outlines key criteria that signal leadership potential. In addition to being a strong performer and culture ambassador, internal candidates being considered for leadership roles should have demonstrated the following:
- Professional maturity: the ability to respect people’s values and backgrounds, take responsibility for their actions and act respectfully in the workplace.
- Step up to help others: eager to help colleagues resolve an issue or support a project’s success even when outside of their responsibilities.
- Show initiative to take on more responsibility: offer to take on a larger role in a project or be involved in a new project.
- Act collaboratively: Work well in a team environment and with colleagues.
- Focus on their own improvement: show an interest in and focus on their own growth and development.
- Earned credibility: have gained the respect and credibility from their peers as an influential leader and go-to resource on the team.
How can employers ensure new leaders are set up for success?
First time managers need to develop critical new skills quickly. It’s a significant change going from only having oversight of your own work to leading the work of others. Employers can set new leaders up for success by providing training and development on key management related responsibilities and skills including:
- Monitoring and managing others performance, without micromanaging
- Effectively delegating work to others
- Workload planning to avoid an imbalance of work amongst the team
- Making sound hiring decisions
- Holding performance coaching conversations and providing constructive feedback
- Creating team camaraderie and an inclusive work environment
- Understanding individual workstyles and preferences
- Learning the basics of key employment laws
- Building relationships at all levels
In addition to formal training on the above topics, employers should consider other learning options such as articles, books and other collateral on leadership topics and providing access to an experienced leader who can provide mentorship.
However, the most important support an employer can provide to a new leader is to be intentional about carving out time in their schedule to focus on developing these new skills. Often, we are so busy in our daily work that we tend to deprioritize our own professional development. Set up your new leader for success by establishing professional developments goals with an expected timeline (i.e., identify a certain number of hours each week/month to complete these tasks). Hold them accountable to achieving these goals and remove any barriers.
Six (6) key takeaways for employers to remember when promoting leaders from within:
- Identify leadership potential early and build a pipeline of leadership talent in your organization
- Never prematurely promote someone as a retention tool – instead, invest in their development so they are ready and prepared to step into their new position successfully
- Be as intentional and planful about the onboarding process for a newly promoted employee as you would a new hire
- Lean in – monitor performance, impact and contribution closely and course correct quickly
- Be a mentor and coach – lead with empathy, support and grace
- Create opportunities for quick wins and celebrate them
In closing, employers should develop an intentional talent strategy to build a leadership pipeline in support of your objective to attract and retain talent. This can be a critical competitive differentiator for many employers in today’s talent market. Implementing a successful leadership development program starts with making an investment in your current workforce. Employers will realize the ROI from this investment when they arm new leaders with the skills and tools they need to lead in an impactful way, make a positive impact on the organization and inspire their new team to follow them.