Grooming Leaders From Within: When Inward Growth Spurs Confidence for Pursuing Tomorrow’s Expansion

Experienced business leaders who are capable of running global organizations are in demand around the globe. Businesses looking to expand their reach in new markets often contemplate whether to promote from within or recruit external candidates to fill key leadership positions. In the latter case, studies have shown that it takes an average of two years for external employees to “get up to speed” in their new roles. Matthew Bidwell, a Management Professor at the Wharton School of Business, attributes this lag to the need for external hires to learn how to be effective and how to build and maintain relationships in their new roles. It is hard to predict an individual’s future performance based on the person’s carefully crafted presentation of him/herself displayed on a resume or CV. Similarly, many traditional styles of interviewing offer limited accuracy in predicting future performance.  “False positives” can also occur where hiring decisions are made in the absence of information from reference checks, or when employers approach referees who share a biased view of the candidate’s capabilities. Understandably, the risk of external hires failing to perform as expected is rather substantial within those first two years of transition into a new company.

Building a Leadership Pipeline

Given the alternative, one cannot overlook the importance of building an internal leadership pipeline that grooms present managers into seasoned leaders who can continue to grow, in line with the future business needs. This is a challenge that faces many businesses operating both regionally and globally. To create viable internal mobility, management teams need to have a long term perspective on the overall performance and growth potential of their businesses and must develop a keen sense of how deep and broad their leadership pipelines need to be. Beyond that, organizations have to convey clear priorities about what capabilities need to be acquired and must surround their employees with people who can actively support their development efforts and promote effective learning practices.

Regional Mobility in Africa

To be competitive in Africa, organizations must create systems and processes that enable managers to develop leadership skills in a more intentional and systematic manner, leveraging experience with new responsibilities, as well as exposure to new markets. The Big Four audit firms in Africa, namely KPMG, Ernst and Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Deloitte have instituted leadership development programs that use online skill building platforms, structured training sessions, self-assessments, 360-degree feedback and one-on-one coaching with internal coaches to help equip their staff for greater responsibility. The coaches also guide their protégées in navigating the organizations thus facilitating in depth transfer of the company knowledge and culture. Furthermore, their performance management frameworks are designed to identify emerging leaders from high performing team leaders and junior managers to senior managers, who will often participate in job rotations and assignments at partner firms within their network of African and international office locations. This on-the-job training ensures that leaders are able to develop valuable skills in the areas of relationship management, team building, business strategy, and communication.

In the telecommunication industry, MTN, a leading South Africa based multinational company has a similar practice that enables their senior staff to work in different countries within the MTN Group. Such regional and global mobility opportunities make it possible for individuals to gain knowledge and skills in other lines of service as well as leadership experience in a new region or country.

An Effective Leadership Strategy

Crafting an intentional global leadership strategy is an ongoing exercise. Today’s businesses demand a high level of competency from their leaders and the intensity of the scope of work they take on is also increasing. There is a need to strike the right balance between an emphasis on performance (involving expectations of consistently high quality execution) and development (involving exposure to challenging new learning experiences). One example of an integrated approach for leadership development has been proposed by the Centre for Creative Leadership (CCL). The 70-20-10 rule for leadership development focuses on how executives learn, grown and change over the course of their careers. CCL found that effective development happened when 70% of the development strategy was devoted to challenging assignments, 20% to developmental relationships and 10% to coursework and training. While this model will not apply to all businesses, it is helpful to think about tailoring leadership strategies to the business context.

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CCL’s 70-20-10 Rule for Leadership Development

The implementation of a coherent leadership strategy is crucial to the development of a robust leadership pipeline. Employees, directors, and shareholders must hold management teams accountable for developing future leaders internally if the company is going to excel in this capacity.  Performance benchmarks should be transparent and geared towards identifying individuals ready to assume the next position in the pipeline. Management teams should also forecast their future leadership needs. Under certain circumstances, particularly during periods of rapid growth, companies may need to rely more heavily on external hires to fill key positions in the short term. Nonetheless, companies should remain prudent about initiating and sustaining forward-looking internal leadership development programs.

Strides in Africa

While external hiring is necessary and value adding in that it brings fresh and external experience into organisations, it can be to the advantage of any business to build on their internal capacities and develop robust and expansive leadership pipelines. IBM recently set up an Africa Research Lab in Nairobi, Kenya and tapped into its internal networks to identify the senior management team that would strengthen their foothold in East Africa and beyond. With the General Manager as the only external hire, IBM demonstrates that leaders who are capable of embracing the challenge of a new market and have the capacity to move a business forward can often be found within. An in depth analysis of one’s internal networks can help one leverage on their strengths, work on and improve their weaknesses and find innovative ways of adding value to the team, company and stakeholders.

With strong competition for talent in consumer goods, professional services, and other dynamic sectors in Africa, companies looking to expand in Africa would be well-served to incorporate leadership development strategies as a core part of their overall growth plans. On the other side of the equation, high performing managers and executives will likely be spoiled for choice: whether they decide to remain within their existing organizations and position themselves for promotion or to pursue external roles and prepare to transition into a new business. It’s a gamble for both parties involved but the potential to successfully promote an experienced executive into a meaningful role in an organization they are committed to supporting is remarkably rewarding.

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