How “Strategically Aligned” is your Leadership Development Program?

If you’re in charge of your organization’s training, talent management, succession planning, or HR function, when’s the last time you talked to your C-level executives about leadership development?

Pick one answer:

A. Within the last few months – I talk to our C-level Execs on a regular basis about leadership development. In fact, they consider themselves the owners of leadership development, and often reach out to me.

B. I did when I first started in my role, but that was a few years ago, so it’s been a while. There are even a couple new ones in place since I did it.

C. I haven’t – but would really like to, I just wouldn’t know how to. Read on!

D. Never – and why would I want to do that? We survey our employees to find out what they want and our courses get great ratings.

E. What’s a C-level executive? Is that Concourse level?

If you answered A, congratulations, how’s that “seat at the table” feeling? I’ll bet the work you’re doing to strategically aligned, you’re contributing to achieving the goals of your organization, and you’re seen as a valued resource by your company’s senior management. No doubt your team feels jazzed about their work too – knowing that they are making a difference. That’s the best gift a leader can give to their team. You’re also creating a good dose of job security as well.

If you answered B, then it’s time to get out of your office and hit the road again. It’s important to be having regular conversations with your C-level executives about current and future talent strengths and weaknesses. How regular? It depends – at least yearly, and as often as business priorities shift or C-level players turn over.

If you answered C, then good for you! Here’s what you need to do:

1. Schedule 30 minute meetings with each member of your senior executive team (usually via their executive assistants). Follow-up with an email to their assistants explaining the purpose of your requested meeting and provide a list of questions.

2. Prepare your questions in advance. Although yours may vary, the key is to keep the conversation at a high level. FORGET everything they taught you in that training book you read on “How to conduct a Training Needs Assessment”. Leave the training jargon behind – this is a business conversation. If needed, do your homework by reading your company’s latest annual report, press releases, and listen to the latest recorded earnings call.

3. Here’s the questioning structure I like to use:

I. Business Goals and Challenges:
– What are your most important goals, objectives, and/or challenges you’re working on now and in the next few years? – What keeps you up at night? Caution: be prepared for “crying babies, barking dogs, monsters, caffine,  etc…”. OK, so that question might be getting a bit overused. Try another version.

II. Current manager’s leadership development needs:
How prepared are our managers to achieve these goals or address these challenges? If not fully, then what’s missing? If you could wave your magic wand, what would you like to see your managers start doing, stop doing, or continuing to do?

III. Succession planning:
What about your leadership bench? How confident are you that you’ve got the talent needed to step into key leadership roles? If not, why? What’s missing? What critical skills or experiences are missing?

IV. Satisfaction with current programs:
How satisfied are you with our current leadership development programs? For example, we’re currently doing………. Have you heard anything, positive or negative? Is there anything you’d like to see happening that’s not?

Note: this might be a good time to ask for any support or involvement in your program – see 10 Ways to Involve Leaders in Leadership Development Programs and What Does “CEO Commitment” to Leadership Development Really Mean?

It may be a good idea to take a note-taker with you, so that one person can ask the questions, listen, and ask follow-up questions without slowing down the conversation. It should sound and feel like a conversation – not a formal interview.

Once you’ve conducted the interviews, type up the notes and review them with a few colleagues, your team, and your manager. Use the findings to make sure EVERYTHING you’re doing is directly supporting the business goals and identified skill gaps. You may have to make some hard choices on what NOT to do – that is, to give up some of those favorite activities or programs.

D. If you answered D, and you’re still reading this, then there may be hope for you. Yes, bottoms up needs assessment are important- it’s always good to go right to the source. However, incumbent leaders may not know what they don’t know when it comes to high level, strategic changes. And yes, course ratings are important – but great ratings for learning outdated or irrelevant skills are worthless.

E. If you answered E: C stands for Chief, as in Chief Executive Officer, Chief Financial Officer, Chief Operations Officer, Chief of Staff, Police Chief, Chief Rabbi, Commander in Chief, Chief Justice, Chief Sitting Bull, etc…. These are the big kahunas at the corporate office making decisions about how much to cut your training budget.