Any time your team has an open role, you likely consider candidates from both inside and outside your organization. But when it comes to leadership roles, some of your current employees might not meet the qualifications because they haven't received the training or mentorship needed to succeed in such roles.

Given the historically low unemployment rate, elevating your current employees to leadership roles can be more effective than competing for outside candidates. And as an added bonus, your employees already know the ins and outs of your business, meaning they'll get up to speed quicker than an outside hire.

Despite the benefits of promoting employees to leadership roles, many businesses face challenges building leadership benches. According to a recent study from Gartner, in 2018, 47 percent of HR leaders said their organizations struggle to develop leaders, and 45 percent indicated their processes didn't yield the right leaders at the right time.

The Gartner study further found that building a leadership bench is a top priority in 2019 for 67 percent of HR leaders and 78 percent of talent management leaders.

How can your team set up your current employees for future success as leaders? I've pulled together a few steps for you to get started.

1. Define your career paths.

Your most engaged employees want to build long-term careers with your team, rather than simply job-hopping from one organization to the other. One of the best ways you can get your current employees -- and prospective applicants -- motivated to do great work on your team is by defining career paths across roles and departments. Without specific career paths in place, your current employees will be frustrated, it will turn off job seekers, and you'll be less likely to build internal leaders.

On your career site and in your job descriptions, make sure to highlight what career paths look like across roles. And once you have employees on board, make sure they understand your career paths and exactly what they need to accomplish to get promoted and eventually reach a leadership role. Not only will defined career paths excite employees, but they will make it easier for your team to measure who stands out as a future leader.

2. Ask employees about career aspirations.

One of the most effective ways to help employees reach leadership roles is by regularly checking in with them on their career aspirations. If you're a manager, ask your direct reports where they want to be in one year, five years, and further down the road.

If employees want to be leaders on your team, you can encourage them to hit specific measurable milestones or goals to grow in their roles and make it to the next level. Or when you ask about some employees' long-term career aspirations, it might turn out that they ultimately want to be a leader on a different team in your organization. If this is the case, you can help provide the tools your employees need to make a smooth transition -- such as a mentor on the team they want to join or recommended training steps.

3. Build a training program.

With many HR leaders indicating that their organizations struggle to develop leaders, one of the contributing factors might be that not enough training resources are available to employees. Beyond initial onboarding, it's important to set up recurring training opportunities for all employees -- and additional training for future leaders.

Training options can include shadowing fellow employees, attending lunch and learn sessions, taking skills assessments, reading books related to employees' career paths, watching structured training videos and just about anything else that might be a fit based on your specific leadership development goals.

4. Set aside face time with leaders.

A great way for your employees to evolve into leaders is by interacting with current leaders at your organization. Consider encouraging your current leaders to have an open-door policy and make themselves available to future leaders. Aspiring leaders can set up time with your leadership teams to ask questions about how they grew in their careers and what it takes to reach such a role.

To save time, rather than setting up one-on-one meetings between each current leader and future leader, you can also offer recurring Q&A sessions. In these sessions, all aspiring leaders can ask questions and hear similar helpful questions from their peers. Ultimately, exposure to the leadership team can motivate your most promising employees even further about pursuing a leadership path.

Your current employees can ultimately be your most productive, successful leaders. By being more intentional about developing future leaders, you can ensure you're not scrambling to fill roles when new leadership positions open up.

Published on: Apr 22, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.