Every business needs to develop leaders from within its own ranks. So how can you improve your company's process?
Douglas Conant, the founder and CEO of executive development firm ConantLeadership, writes in Harvard Business Review about his most effective leadership development method while he was serving as CEO of Campbell Soup Company. In 2001, Campbell was suffering from low engagement and a lack of new leaders working their way up. So over the next 10 years, Conant vastly increased engagement by having "candid leadership development conversations."
Each year, he would dedicate 50 hours to leadership development meetings he called One-Over-Ones--a discussion he and his chief human resources officer would have with a senior manager and the senior manager's direct report. "These were notably different than regular 'performance reviews,' because they were top-line conversations focused on the development of the leaders; they were not tedious rundowns of specific tasks or objectives," Conant writes. "The benefits were tremendous in stimulating the engagement of our senior leaders."
Below, find out the details of these meetings and how you can start developing leaders from within your company.
Demonstrate how you value people
Human capital is your most valuable resource. Investing time and energy to develop your people will show that you actually value employees as individuals and want them to grow. One-Over-Ones were not about evaluating how a subordinate works; the focus was solely on leadership. "One-Over-Ones at Campbell were informal, candid, two-way conversations that afforded both the manager and his or her direct report the opportunity to approach the CEO and CHRO honestly with whatever leadership quandaries, ideas, or questions they had," Conant writes. "The conversations were an opportunity to learn more about how they were leading. What was working? What wasn't? How could we help ensure they were poised for success in the coming year?"
These meetings are "forums for leaders to voice their career desires in a context where they [know] they [can] be heard" and put themselves up for new leadership positions. It's a safe place for your subordinates to talk about where they want to be and for you to help them achieve those goals. "Overwhelmingly, both the manager and subordinate would leave these discussions feeling deeply supported and excited about their development agenda," he writes.
Help every employee to continually grow
If your employees aren't rising through the ranks, they aren't growing. When employees feel stuck in one position forever, they aren't going to devote their energy to your company. "No matter the level, all leaders need to further hone their skills, to stretch, to grow, to learn," Conant says. These meetings help you and your employees develop your future selves and stay hungry. "One-Over-Ones afforded high-level leaders at Campbell the rare opportunity to reflect on their leadership and engage in productive development conversations that helped them do their jobs better," he writes.
A model for desired behavior
"As a leader, you must model the behavior that you want to see manifested in the larger organization," Conant writes. These meetings help you show your employees that cultivating new leaders and continued growth and education are priorities for everyone. A CEO shouldn't just care about the C suite--what will you do when executives leave? Why look elsewhere when you can craft your own leaders, teach them the skills they need, and steep them in your company's mission?
"This signaled to my direct reports, and the entire leadership team, that learning and development were very important to me--as was the notion of being closely involved with developing one's subordinates," Conant says. "It also worked as a teaching mechanism. As people became more and more conscious of the benefits, the practice trickled down throughout the organization. We witnessed that modeling the importance of growth and leadership development at a high level translated to engagement with learning at every level."