Leadership Talent: Whose Line Is It Anyway?

In January, Fortune reported on a Conference Board worldwide survey of 555 CEOs’ primary concerns. The top issue that keeps U.S. CEOs up at night: the ability to retain and attract top talent (the issue ranked #4 on international concerns).

Closer to home, my colleague, Bill Pusey, and I have been talking with corporate leaders throughout New England about their talent and leadership development needs. Not surprisingly, the concern over talent retention and attraction is a critical issue.

Drilling down on these concerns reveals some interesting dynamics. HR managers express frustration with too little time due to various projects/initiatives and that available training funds are not being used by corporate staff. While the money is budgeted for professional development, the staff doesn’t take advantage.

We’ve also been talking with Ascending Leaders (leaders who know they can perform at a higher level and desire a larger, more strategic impact on their organizations and teams). They note that they are overwhelmed with the pressure of daily tactical operational activities for their teams or business units. They don’t feel they have their managers’ support to take the time for needed professional development.

So there is a disconnect between corporate leadership’s lament over talent and the ability of talented leaders to grow and develop. The question is who’s responsible? Who in the organization needs to ensure that high performing talent gets the required professional development that will entice them to stay and continue to make strong contributions? The CEO? HR? Or is staff expected to take responsibility for their own development?

The short answer is YES to all the questions. The CEO needs to make sure that everyone in the organization is aware that they are expected to participate in professional development activities, that the necessary funds are available, as well as the programs. CEOs need to hold their direct reports accountable for talent development. That accountability needs to be held down the management line.

HR needs to ensure that staff is aware that funding and programs are available for their development and that the staff is expected to participate in the appropriate programs. HR needs to make sure the staff understands the expectation that professional development is a requirement of career advancement. Furthermore, HR needs to make sure managers and supervisors are responsible for the development of their staffs.

And it’s the responsibility of staff to take advantage of the offerings of their organizations. They need to know that professional development is an expectation for advancement, that programs are available and that they will be allowed — and encouraged — to pursue those programs by their managers and supervisors.

In short, the development of talent is everyone’s job, and it needs to be clear that policies and programs are geared to retaining top talent. A recent Gallup “State of the American Workplace” found that “51% of employees are searching for new jobs or watching for openings”. If the organization falls short, it will lose its top talent to a competitor willing to offer development opportunities.