Building a Leadership Development Program That Works

By Robert Half on May 15, 2018 at 6:04pm
Creating a leadership development program for your accounting and finance staff is a way to offer them the opportunity to develop the skills they need to move up within your organization and grow professionally. These programs can generate other benefits, too, including helping your employees to feel more connected to the business, and understand how their work adds value.
Building an effective program takes commitment and focus — for the company as well as for the employees aspiring to become future leaders for the organization. The following steps 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 potential — not just experience

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.
Your most efficient and organized cost accountant, for example, is not necessarily the one who should lead the department in a few years. Just because someone is a top performer doesn’t mean he or she has the requisite skills to become a vice president.
A better approach is to look for employees with solid technical skills and experience but who also exhibit leadership attributes, such as an aptitude for building consensus, listening to different perspectives and communicating effectively with nonfinancial professionals.

Don’t try to fit people into a mold

There’s no single path to becoming a leader. You can’t design a one-size-fits-all leadership development program that will roll along like an assembly line, spitting out fully formed executives at the end. A smarter strategy is a flexible one that adapts to promising candidates’ needs as they progress along their 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 the leadership development program to them rather than the other way around.

Give people a chance to prove themselves

Perhaps the best way to identify and shape leadership candidates is to give them unexpected opportunities to lead. Look at it as the proverbial trial by fire, but with more volunteers and less inherent danger. You might be pleasantly surprised by which team members step up to the plate and quickly become stars.
Make sure everyone on your team has the option to show off their leadership potential, gain practical experience and refine their interpersonal skills. The occasions 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.

Remove obstacles that could derail progress

Leadership candidates should by definition show initiative and independence. But that doesn’t mean you should leave any aspect of your leadership development training program to chance.
Instead, closely monitor the progress of each candidate to ensure they haven’t hit any walls that might threaten their success. For example, if an employee’s designated mentor becomes too busy to meet regularly, match your leader-in-training with another experienced employee who has the time and inclination to be an engaged adviser.

Set clear goals and acknowledge achievements

Your leadership development program should have a well-defined “road map” for each participant to follow. Work with your team members directly to highlight potential career paths, so they can visualize how their future might look. Understanding how they fit into the big picture at your firm can help increase their motivation to succeed.
Also, be quick to congratulate program participants on their achievements when they reach certain milestones and accomplish key objectives outlined for them. 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.

Keep retention in focus

You don’t want to invest resources in leadership development efforts only to have promising employees leave the company for opportunities elsewhere. So, be sure to maintain an effective employee retention strategy in parallel with your leadership development program. You should work to retain all valued employees, of course, but accounting and finance professionals who are likely to become part of your formal succession plan deserve even more attention.
Offering promising employees compensation to match their developing skills is one strategy for enhancing the retention of potential leaders, of course. You also should check in with these employees regularly to gauge their overall job satisfaction and engagement. And, of course, be sure to emphasize that the reason you welcome their involvement in the leadership development program is that you are confident they possess the raw materials to one day become skilled leaders who will keep the business growing and successful far into the future.

Want more tips on developing your team?

Download Robert Half’s special report, Creating & Managing the Dream Team, to find tips on how to build and lead a high-performance, well-balanced team, including identifying the working styles of elite players and managing different personality types with the right approach. You’ll also gain insight on how to leverage effective management techniques to be an even stronger leader for your accounting and finance staff.

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