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Naysan Firoozmand

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Future leaders: Are you sure you know how to pick them?


Naysan Firoozmand looks at how businesses can develop - and retain - future leaders.

Accurately identifying talented individuals, particularly those with leadership potential, is key to the long-term success of any business. What’s more, identifying staff members’ potential and working actively towards developing it, fosters higher levels of engagement and encourages greater loyalty. But all too often talent goes ignored, fails to put itself forward, or is recognised but never developed. So how can this be avoided? Here are some of the most important considerations for businesses to bear in mind when they are looking to identify and develop future leaders.

How to spot talented staff

  • Develop managers’ ability to understand the difference between performance and potential – all too often spotting talent is left to managers, but many of them don’t know how to do this objectively.
  • Have a talent strategy and publicise it – talent spotting shouldn’t happen either accidentally or periodically: there should be a cultural expectation that anyone can be identified as talent, and can be ‘spotted’ at any point. Remember to makes this known through your strategy.
  • Be objective and have clear criteria – if your organisation clearly defines the characteristics expected of someone classified as ‘talent’, everyone will know what is being looked for. Competency frameworks can be a useful starting point, although remember that many are designed to deliver performance rather than to categorise talent or potential.
  • Don’t rely on instinct – very few organisations invest the time and effort in putting together a robust talent-spotting approach. Some forward-thinking organisations work with consultancies to design development centres that explicitly measure potential and can provide development opportunities for all staff.
  • Test the business climate – some staff feel that they don’t have the qualities to be seen as talent, while others who don’t really fit the bill will put themselves forward and self-promote their talent. (Ambition is a poor indicator of future performance). Review the talent culture to test if there is an appropriate and informed appetite for personal progression, and ask why people do - or don’t - put themselves forward.

Training talent to be future leaders

  • Think beyond training courses – talented staff may already have a greater appetite for learning and development than training can satisfy alone. Individual development and on-the-job development may capitalise on their keenness more effectively and provide better opportunities for them to apply their potential.
  • One size doesn’t fit all – by its very nature, talent is (often) unique: it pays to find a development route that suits the talented individual. Grouping the ‘talent population’ artificially can sometimes alienate them.
  • Act quickly – we often see organisations drag their heels. Taking too long to support the development of future leaders often means they become restless and actively promote their talents elsewhere.
  • Combine internal and external support – collaboration between internal mentors and external coaches provides a highly effective and accelerated route to development for future leaders. Allow talented staff to unlock their potential and be clear what this looks like as part of the talent strategy.

Naysan Firoozmand is managing consultant at ASK Europe


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