HR

Experience Counts

Consider grooming current staff for higher-level roles

By Jim Kwapick

If you suddenly came across experienced management-level candidates with a deep first-hand understanding of your business, wouldn't you hire them in a heartbeat? Of course you would. But such applicants are almost impossible to find, you say? Perhaps you're not looking in the right place.

The fact is your best potential managers may be right in front of you, among the ranks of your employees. Outside candidates may possess a general familiarity with your industry, but only your current staff knows your company from the "inside." That kind of familiarity with your business and your firm's culture is invaluable.

When it's time to fill a higher-level position, recruiting from within will enable you to tap into some of that latent expertise. But you can't expect your employees to instantly step into advanced roles. You need to create a deliberate, systematic strategy for grooming your top performers for eventual advancement. In the process, you'll create a pipeline of qualified candidates who are well-prepared to move up. At the same time, you'll show your employees that you care about their career potential, which can lead to better retention and higher productivity.

Here are some techniques for training your staff for higher-level positions:

Develop managerial tracks

Considering your company's future objectives, which of your employees would you consider most likely to be able to successfully meet upcoming demands? Which do you feel have the basic skills and aptitude to advance within your organization? As you talk with these team members during performance appraisal time, ask them about their aspirations and goals. Without making specific promises, discuss with them the possibility of taking on new responsibilities as a developmental experience. Let them know, if they are willing, this may include mentoring opportunities.

Try to create a variety of ways candidates can acquire the skills they will need if they move into management positions. Leading a high-profile project team, drafting a memo on a key department issue or resolving a work team's scheduling problems are just a few tasks that can provide valuable experience.

Set up mentoring and cross-training programs

Mentoring is one of the most effective ways to help employees enhance their skills and is a vital part of grooming them for advancement. Management candidates can learn a great deal by observing and emulating more senior employees with supervisory experience. Some organizations have a formal mentoring program in place, but even if yours does not, you can create effective pairings yourself. Match people with supervisors who can provide not only functional guidance but also assistance in developing key interpersonal and communication skills. For example, a senior manager who is known for her public speaking skills could tutor a trainee on how to give effective presentations.

Cross-training is another excellent way to prepare employees for higher-level roles. This approach enables staff to develop new skills and gain exposure to responsibilities not currently a part of their job descriptions or competency areas. You can also supplement a cross-training program with outside training tailored to individual employees' developmental needs.

Follow through

Even if you arrange mentorships for your team members, you'll still need to stay involved. Provide ongoing feedback informally and through performance reviews. Also set measurable objectives, such as asking them to prepare an analysis of a potential business niche, complete a course in public speaking or lead a formal presentation to a prospective client by a certain deadline.

It takes time and careful planning to develop an advancement strategy for promising staff members, but it's better than waiting until a vacancy occurs before considering how to staff the position. Select the right candidates for advancement, develop a consistent approach to training, and you'll ultimately have a group of skilled employees capable of assuming higher-level roles when the time comes. And as a near-term benefit, your company will have a more versatile group of employees with a better understanding of how their individual contributions and roles blend to create and sustain a successful business.

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