Building a Leadership Development Program That Works

By Robert Half on July 9, 2021 at 5:15pm

Providing a formal leadership development program can help your accounting and finance team members develop the skills they need to grow professionally and advance within your organization. Leadership development can deliver other benefits, too, including helping your employees feel more connected to the business and understand how their work adds value.

It’s especially important to think about investing in your valued talent now, as Robert Half’s research suggests many professionals may be contemplating a career move. Our recent survey of 2,800 workers in 28 major U.S. cities found that nearly one in three employees (32%) said they plan to look for a new role in the next several months. A top reason they cited for making a move? The desire for career advancement.

Also, other research from our company found that 38% of professionals feel their career has stalled since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The number jumps to 66% for workers between the ages of 18 to 24 — professionals who are part of Generation Z. And two specific areas where workers reported feeling stuck are career advancement (47%) and skills development (44%).

View our infographic showing research highlights from our recent survey about stalled careers.

Leadership development requires commitment

There are valid reasons many workers may be feeling some career inertia right now. For example, in a recent Robert Half survey of senior managers, more than half (59%) of the respondents said they had postponed promoting their top performers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of those senior managers, more than three-quarters (78%) said they’re worried about staff retention as a result of their decision to hold off on promotions. If, as a manager, you can relate to this finding, then there’s no time to waste in amplifying your focus on leadership development for accounting and finance staff.

Developing leadership programs that have impact takes commitment and focus — for the company as well as for the employees aspiring to become future leaders for the organization. The following tips can help ensure you create and maintain a leadership development program that will deliver a good return on investment of time and effort for everyone involved:

Look for leadership development potential in all staff

When selecting candidates for your leadership development program, don’t focus solely on performance or tenure. If you do, you may overlook employees with hidden potential. Or you could end up sidelining workers who could benefit from leadership development, but are reluctant to ask for it due to a lack of confidence or the inability to visualize a clear path up in your organization.

Your most efficient and organized cost accountant, for example, is not necessarily the one who should lead the department in a few years. And just because someone is a top performer doesn’t mean he or she has the requisite skills (or interest) to become a vice president one day. Also, consider the highly talented and motivated staff accountant who has only been with your firm for about a year — would that person benefit from leadership development, even though they’re early into their career?

You want to make the most of all the high-potential talent on your team, of course. So, be on the lookout for employees who have solid technical skills and experience as well as strong interpersonal skills and clear leadership attributes. These attributes include an aptitude for building consensus, listening to different perspectives, and communicating effectively with nonfinancial professionals.

Tailor leadership development

You can’t design a one-size-fits-all leadership development program that will roll along like an assembly line, delivering fully formed executives at the end. More realistic is a flexible approach to development that you can adapt to meet promising candidates’ needs as they progress along their unique professional journey.

As an example, one person may benefit from attaining an in-demand certification, while another would thrive if mentored by a respected senior employee. What’s important is to understand each candidate’s learning style, motivations and career goals, and then tailor specific elements of leadership development to them rather than the other way around.

Your leadership development program also should offer a well-defined “road map” for employees to follow. Work with your team members directly to highlight potential career paths, so they can visualize how their future might look. Helping them see the future can help increase their motivation to succeed.

Give all employees a chance to prove themselves

Perhaps the best way to identify and shape leadership development candidates is to give them unexpected opportunities to take the reins, such as asking them to lead a low-risk but potentially high-value project. This is a great way to help reluctant leaders build confidence, and to give less-seasoned team members eager for the chance to shine the opportunity to demonstrate their abilities.

Make sure everyone on your team has the chance to show their leadership potential, gain practical experience and refine their interpersonal skills. These opportunities could include giving a presentation to senior managers or covering for a manager on short-term leave. Just be sure to support your “trial” leaders with the resources and guidance they need to succeed as they take on these challenges.

Looking for more professional development ideas for your financial staff? See this post.

Acknowledge achievements and measure success

Be quick to congratulate program participants on their achievements when they reach certain milestones and accomplish key objectives. For major accomplishments, such as spearheading a critical project, recognize your future leaders publicly. Budding leaders are likely to be even more committed to pursuing the management track when current leadership takes time to acknowledge their hard work.

Also, measure the overall success and impact of leadership development efforts at your firm. Some measurement options include:

  • The number of participants who complete the program successfully
  • The number of participants you promote after they have gone through the program
  • Increases in employees’ leadership responsibilities
  • Whether peers feel that program participants are developing into effective leaders

As part of your evaluation, also assess whether employees have developed leadership skills that can help them be more effective in their current roles, and not just qualify them for promotions down the line.

Keep retention in focus

You don’t want to invest resources in leadership development for promising employees only to have those team members leave the company to pursue new opportunities. Maintaining an effective employee retention strategy in parallel with your leadership development program can help you avoid that.

Check in with employees regularly to gauge their overall job satisfaction and engagement and determine if they’re ready for new challenges. And if you have team members working remotely, make a special effort to reach out to them regularly. Make sure they have access to the same types of meaningful leadership development opportunities as employees who work on-site.

And finally, emphasize to all your leaders-in-the-making that the business is committed to helping them develop professionally. Let them know you’re confident that they possess the raw materials to one day become skilled leaders who can keep the business growing and successful far into the future.

Want more tips on developing your staff? Subscribe to Robert Half’s free newsletter. You’ll get articles and resources on how to build and manage a winning team, and more, all sent directly to your inbox.

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