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Business success is a journey, leadership is the compass

compass social signiumLeadership identification and development continues to be one of the most pressing business issues keeping executives awake at night. Every business has the same aim: success and sustainability. Established routes to this destination include competitive advantage, new technology to improve productivity and product innovation, and cost reduction to secure pricing efficiencies. Without superior leaders, none of this is possible.

Companies progress through a life cycle from seed to start-up, growth to established, expansion to mature, and then to decline and exit, or renewal through invention. In the same way, leadership identification and development progresses through a cycle.

Leadership consulting offers the most suitable answers to these current dilemmas by helping leaders to align their people strategy with their business strategy; providing scientific and objective information through assessments; designing development interventions to help leaders function at their highest potential; and then embarking on acquiring and retaining leadership talent when talent needs to be acquired and not ‘home-grown’.

In order to remain competitive and relevant, business leaders must start by aligning their talent strategy with their business strategy. This is critical because talent strategies translate the company’s vision and values into expected employee behaviour and define how they will contribute towards the company’s success. Misalignment is likely to result in strategic goals not being met.

It is a myth that only large organisations need a talent strategy. Smaller organisations are more at risk because there are fewer possible successors in unique roles.

In addition, not only is it important to understand the current talent pool within the company but also future needs. This is done by analysing the readiness of the current leaders to meet the future business needs of the organisation and provides a realistic pipeline of leadership talent.

Plan your talent for five years from now and not only for today; look to the future of the company. Use competency assessments to test employees’ long-term strategic thinking ability, innovation, as well as their flexibility in decision-making, because these are critical skills for building a successful business.

Assessments are an objective and scientific way of gathering insight into a person’s current functioning and future potential. They provide an understanding of the impact of the person’s behaviour on others in the workplace. If the assessment tools used are valid, reliable and culture-fair, and if assessments are professionally conducted, the insights are extremely useful.

Most leaders are built, not born. Top performers take responsibility for developing their knowledge, skills and competencies. There are many ways of doing this, including leadership development programmes, on-the-job training and executive coaching, which is a powerful way to provide support to leaders and help them navigate current and future challenges. Executive coaching can help turn good leaders into great ones.

If leaders within the company are not yet ready or fully developed, leadership needs to be acquired, preferably with the assistance of a reputable headhunter or talent-search professional for those executive level positions.

That suitable candidates can be found from outside the company’s industry is beyond doubt; they may even have an advantage over industry insiders. Their advantage is the ability to ask embarrassing questions while taking nothing for granted. Successful cross-industry movers acknowledge that their first job is to listen, then listen some more. The reinvigorated executive team around the new leader stops making assumptions and starts to question old habits. They may also acknowledge that new technology, new legislation and the emergence of a new consumer are having major impact on their sector. There are no guarantees of success, however. Outsiders don’t always work miracles.

Pros are accompanied by cons.

The ‘safe’ industry insider does not have to go through a period of intensive familiarisation with a new industry and its dynamics. He or she can hit the ground running. In contrast, the outsider faces a steep learning curve. Suddenly, evolution seems safer than revolution. Continuity seems a better bet than a thorough shake-up.

Stay open-minded.

When recruiting leaders, don’t ignore the importance of diversity to balance your team. Remember generation, gender, race, religion and so forth. Businesses with diverse workforces will have a strategic advantage in the marketplace.

It is difficult to attract executive talent. It is easy to lose executive talent.

Offering opportunities to grow and giving leaders room to express themselves remain key to executive retention. This is according to Michelle Moss, director of Leadership Assessment Consulting at Signium Africa.

There are also other ways business leaders can meet their employees’ needs and foster employee satisfaction to support retention.

Give them the permission to dream up new ideas and different ways of doing things. Of course, the boss still needs to keep a bird’s eye view of what is going on and provide advice and guidance whenever necessary to ensure ultimate success.

Make work meaningful because most employees want to identify with the vision, the mission and the goals of the company they work for. As business leader, make sure that these are communicated often and that all leaders walk the talk.

Pay your employees what they are worth. Reward and recognition is still critically important in the workplace. A fair trade is important to most people.

Business success is a journey, leadership is the compass. Leaders should develop talent strategies for the right reasons, and not just to tick a compliance box. It is worthwhile remembering that we are dealing with individuals who should be esteemed in the workplace.

A leader is a dealer in hope – Napoleon Bonaparte.

Annelize van Rensburg Director Talent Africa1* Annelize van Rensburg is a founder and director of Signium Africa, previously Talent Africa, a leading provider of integrated talent solutions and leadership development in sub-Saharan Africa, e-mail:

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