Leadership is critical to a company's success. This is twice as true for high-growth businesses. Without enough leaders, scaling a business is next to impossible. It's easy to find people who want to work, but without people to organize, inspire, and manage people, you're setting yourself up for lots of drama with little productivity.
Many companies try to hire for leadership. This has two big downsides: first, it's expensive. Direct and indirect recruiting and hiring costs will quickly add up. Second, it's risky because a cultural 'mis-hire' can do real damage to an organization.
Instead, the best way to increase your company's leadership is to grow it from within. Developing your current people as the next generation of leaders is your best bet. Investing in them will be cheaper than paying for recruiting costs and higher salaries. And your current team members are much more likely to already be a good cultural fit.
As a business coach, one of my favorite programs to work on is a company's leadership development program, commonly known as an LDP. While each program's content should be tailored to the companies industry and needs, here are six strategies you can use to create an effective program without needing to spend much, if any, budget dollars.
1. Have your senior team mentor.
Your senior folks have a vast amount of knowledge and insight into the business. Tap this resource by having them spend one hour a week with a rising star to help them understand the business and what the leader does to be successful. This could be in one-on-one or small group formats. Keep it mentoring, not training.
Let the junior person drive the conversation around what they want and/or need to know. The best part of the these types of programs is that the senior people often learn just as much, if not more.
2. Offer extra time off for learning events.
For those who are keen to get ahead and are willing to drive their own learning, offer a few extra days off each year to attend a conference or workshop to sharpen their skills. There are many free and inexpensive learning opportunities out there and often employees are paying to go to these events already, just give them the time. To help justify the investment, have them come back and host a morning seminar or lunch-and-learn to share with others what they learned and how to apply it to the business.
3. Hold weekly lightning talks.
Pick one lunch each week where a different person in the company does a 15-minute presentation on any topic they want (within reason). Give 15 minutes for Q&A and then have people score and give constructive feedback on the presentation as well as takeaways. This will not only distribute knowledge, it will help develop presentation and feedback skills. And it's fun too.
4. Invite in outside speakers.
If you do a little searching, it's not hard to find people who would be willing to come in and speak for little or no cost. Look for consultants who would jump at the chance to build a relationship. Another great strategy is to invite your customers and partners to come in and present their expertise and business. You can also reach out to authors and professional speakers who might be willing to do a discounted presentation if they're already in the area.
5. Start a book club.
Many of the leadership teams I coach use this strategy to help them develop new skills as a group. Pick a book a month to reach and then spend 30-45 minutes discussing a few takeaways at your monthly meeting. If a full book is too daunting, find a summary to have everyone read. You can also find articles to read as a group. Many authors (like me) will provide discussion guides with their content for team discussions.
6. Recognize effort and accomplishments.
One of the best things you can do is make sure the people and teams, who are dedicating themselves to learning and showing measured progress, are recognized. This could be privately and/or publicly within the company. Recognizing success will both reward those who are already advancing as well as inspire those who may need a little nudge.
Like many initiatives, the most important thing about a learning program is to try something quickly, learn and get feedback, and then pivot quickly. The best companies succeed because they learn how they learn best and then fuel what works for them.