The Next Generation of Leaders: Cultivating and Retaining Top Talent

The Next Generation of Leaders: Cultivating and Retaining
Top Talent

With each passing year, an increasing number of Baby Boomers leave the workforce, Generation X finally have opportunities to move into senior executives roles, and high potential Millennials are being groomed in leadership development programs.  With all these changes well anticipated, one would think that most firms would be well-prepared for these and other workforce changes. Yet, the number one issue among professional service firms continues to be the ability to retain top talent. According to the 2015 Talent Trends report by LinkedIn Talent Solutions, 30% of employed professionals are not just “thinking” about a change, but are “actively searching” for a new job. The same study found that those actively searching stated they were actually satisfied with their current position. So, why the discourse and what does this mean for leadership? One message is clear: It takes more than satisfaction to retain top talent. Today’s workforce seeks to be highly engaged, wants to be challenged with meaningful work, and has a strong desire to know and understand their career paths. 

How can you cultivate and nurture the future leaders of your firm? The next generation, while different from the Baby Boomers, doesn’t want to be coddled and handed their next promotion. Contrary to popular belief, they are willing to work for it. . . IF you focus on creating a stronger, more cohesive organization.

How can you, as the leader of your firm, cultivate and nurture the future leaders of your organization? Follow these five tips to get the ball rolling.

1. Keep top talent engaged.
Employees set the bar of expectations high for 
today’s employers. They expect stimulating work, recognition for achievement, a well-defined career path, competitive pay, the opportunity
for new work experiences, work/life balance, and a cultural fit.  If firms do not live up to these expectations, they quickly become disengaged, productivity declines, and, ultimately, they leave. Sure, Millennials were raised on group play dates and with trophies for just showing up. That’s just a shallow understanding of this next generation of leaders. Simply put, they want more . . . more challenges, more opportunities, more experiences, and more of what life has to offer. They’ve seen their parents sacrifice for little to no return of stability or loyalty. What’s wrong with more? The easiest way to give your future leaders more is to keep them engaged. Give them experience of a variety of projects or new work experiences (think shadowing). Yes, they were raised with trophies, medals and ribbons for just showing up, but they see including others and being recognized for individual contributions are not mutually exclusive efforts. Link their efforts to firm goals, reward and recognize accomplishments (preferably publicly), and consistently discuss career opportunities in an open, forthright manner.

2. Clearly define career advancement opportunities.
This young 
generation of future leaders wants a roadmap. Think about it – their entire life has been mapped out for them – from scheduled play dates to activities to their college schedule. Why should their career be any different? Help them visualize opportunity within your organization. Identify the skills, experience, and knowledge needed to make the next step. For those outstanding performers, create specific programs or offer special opportunities that develop their leadership and communication skills. Initiate a mentor program to guide the process. Think matrix not ladder. Experiences may occur at their current level. Be the guide.

3. Challenge them.
Leadership is often hesitant to present too many 
challenges too soon. This new generation sees things differently. They welcome the opportunity for new experiences. Identify challenging, but manageable projects and allow your top, qualified talent the opportunity to get involved. Stressful and challenging experiences provide the best learning opportunities for emerging leaders. The key? See the next tip. A solid communications strategy solves a lot of issues.

4. Communicate openly, honestly, and often.
Millennials were raised with 
constant feedback – most of which was positive.  As a consequence, they often aren’t equipped to handle negative feedback. So, unfortunately, teaching them the skills needed to handle feedback, both positive and negative, falls squarely on the shoulders of their employer. Keep the lines of communication open. Managers, as well as top leadership, should monitor their development and provide consistent and frequent feedback, as well as specific plans for growth. They should be aware of strategic plans and understand their role in achieving those goals. Communicate honestly to help your young leaders understand where they fit in the future of the firm.

5. Reevaluate your talent pool.
To cultivate the next generation, leadership 
must re-evaluate their talent. High performers today may lack the capabilities or skills needed for future positions. Leadership may discover that there is a hidden star among their team as time goes on. True leaders possess the ability to take on the role and the desire to accept the challenge while maintaining the highest level of engagement over time. If leadership is not continuously reevaluating their talent, it is easy to miss signs of disengagement or, even worse, the optimal skill set. With 90% of the world’s top 200 firms led by Boomers or older, leadership must take immediate, decisive action to nurture and retain their top performers. The future success of their firm depends on it. And, rest assured, if you don’t, someone will.