Group of happy young business people in a meetingThe most successful recruiters understand that their job isn’t just about filling positions with the talent their companies need today, but delivering the individuals with the potential to meet tomorrow’s needs. What results is an engaged employee base eager to grow and develop and, most importantly, remain with the company. But finding those individuals who show great promise is only part of an effective leadership development strategy. Success is also contingent upon having a strong culture of learning.

President John F. Kennedy once remarked, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” And indeed, without a robust learning function, even the most promising candidates may never achieve their full potential as leaders. Despite the obvious correlation, many organizations fail to sufficiently link leadership and learning, or worse, leave learning up to chance instead of truly driving the process. Even though businesses invest billions in learning and training initiatives, many miss the mark in providing employees with the relevant skills they need for their current roles or future positions. In light of difficulties like growing skills gaps, mass baby boomer retirements and general disengagement at work, organizations must take a new approach to learning.

Fortunately, more companies have recognized the value in combining training with performance management. Doing so enables them to move beyond the one-size-fits-all approach commonly used and provide targeted, personalized learning programs for each employee that aligns his or her goals with those of the company. Through such an approach, the organization also gains better visibility into the strengths of its employees, facilitating the process of identifying those who may be best suited for leadership positions in the future.

When performance is tied to learning and development, the company can ensure those high-potentials receive the specialized development and support they need to advance through the company. By viewing the learning function not only as a way to provide employees with the skills they need for their current responsibilities, but also as an essential part of the talent management process, the company can foster a well-rounded workforce better equipped to meet business objectives and the challenges of the future. Moreover, by connecting performance management to leadership development, managers gain greater insight into the talent mobility of their employees – a critical component in succession planning and in keeping employees engaged.

While aligning performance management and leadership development is essential to improving engagement and overcoming skills gaps, such change can take time. The following are a few steps organizations can take to begin the process of linking the two:

  • Highlight available career paths: Letting employees, and even candidates, know about the potential routes for advancement is crucial for engaging top employees from the start. Holding regular meetings to discuss those career paths and the training or development activities needed to help them advance will further align performance with leadership development.
  • Put training into employee’s hands: A one-size-fits-all approach to training will do little to address the unique needs of each employee. Instead, the use of an advanced learning solution can give individuals the support they need to learn at their own pace. When the learning strategy encompasses virtual and classroom sessions, as well as individual and collaborative learning, employees benefit from the methods most effective to their development.
  • Implement a mentoring program: As more senior leaders leave the workforce, organizations must be able to transfer their knowledge to the next generation of leaders. A mentoring program that partners the company’s rising stars with experienced colleagues will help the next generation gain greater knowledge of the company and their work, while helping to eliminate skills gaps as older workers retire.

As employee engagement continues to be an obstacle for most organizations, the ability to retain top performers has become more important than ever. Embracing a robust approach to learning can help the company provide personally tailored development plans that will keep employees engaged and eager to learn. Most importantly, offering extensive training and development opportunities to prepare for future roles will enable top performers to see a vibrant future with the company, rather than seek to advance somewhere else.

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