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Elva Ainsworth

Talent Innovations

World-renowed 360 degree specialist, author and consultant

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Are leaders really committed to talent development?


Are senior leaders only paying lip service to talent development? If so, it may be wasting time, money and be jeopardising the success of your programme. Discover tips on how to gain real commitment from the important people in your organisation.

A talent development strategy may feel like it is yours to deliver but it isn’t. It is for the business to deliver and it requires senior leaders to be committed. It may be stating the obvious but there is a range of what line manager commitment actually looks like. 

A CEO agreeing to a driving a new programme may be what you are after, but is it enough? This article will explore just how, and why, senior buy-in is essential and outline some common pitfalls that well intentioned HR professionals can easily (and innocently fall into). Followed by a suggested three-step process to guarantee senior colleagues are truly onboard.

What does true commitment look like?

Firstly, let’s establish what true commitment looks like. It is useful to refer to an initiative you have been fully committed to in the past. Think of something you have really embraced and wanted, something that totally inspired you to go above and beyond.

Having just attended a reunion at my old university in Bristol, I recall being inspired by a visit to the city when I was 17. I loved it immediately – the buzz, the industry, the architecture, the brand and the hills. I was committed to getting in. I got a tough offer, got help and support and worked super hard for the grades. I made it and totally loved being there despite not enjoying my course and facing some health challenges. 

You’ll know they are committed when they create it with you and talk about it as if it is theirs.

If you apply the same thinking to a talent programme, then your senior leader is likely to be fully committed when they are “wowed” and inspired by the possibility. They will do everything in their power to achieve it, they will put serious budget behind it, they will put in their own personal time, creativity and energy and they will get support and help and keep going despite obstacles. 

You’ll know they are committed when they create it with you and talk about it as if it is theirs. It will feel like you are partners rather than a proposition you have “sold” to them.

Here are a few of the common pitfalls that can trip you up in this area:

  1. Agreement is sufficient. Thinking that a “yes, that sounds great” is enough. Someone paying lip service and agreeing with something happening is only demonstrating a basic level of commitment, a useful starting point but not enough. A talent programme really needs more than this; it needs whole-hearted commitment, dedication and personal action. 
  2. Senior delusion. Your senior leaders may believe they are with the programme when they are kidding themselves. Try to spot whether it feels authentic – to you and to others. If it is not real there will not be appropriate follow through, gaps will soon emerge and obstacles will derail them.
  3. Priority but droppable. Check what is likely to happen if the going gets tough; will your initiative be the first thing to be pulled in an efficiency drive? Look at how your programme can drive real business value instead. What do you need to add for it to become crucial to achieving the business strategy?
  4. Placing accountability with other people, not me. Watch out for finger pointing. Encourage each leader to start with themselves and to role model and inspire others through their own actions and attitude.
  5. Charmed by a key leader. A talent programme requires a whole leadership team to be on board not just one charismatic individual. Check out the alignment amongst all your key stakeholders.
  6. Getting upset when they are not committed. It is easy to react to people not coming up with the commitment you expect but this is not advisable or useful. Consider that everyone is judging their priorities correctly for them and you will be able to support and empower this conversation positively.

As you can see, aiming for a simple “yes, you can have the budget,” is not enough. Here are some key steps to take to ensure you get your full leadership team aligned and whole-heartedly committed to a programme seen as business critical and awesomely inspirational:

Step 1: Co-create a plan with your key stakeholders

Find an outcome that inspires and motivates you – one that will make a big difference to the organisation and one that interests you personally. Start having strategic conversations with key individuals, experts and then specific teams to elaborate the area and the possibility. 

The best solution and way forward will emerge through this dialogue. Key to this is accepting you do not have to provide the answers yourself – your job is to ask the useful questions and listen really hard, to stand for an inspiring goal and lead the dialogue to a proposition that will have the most traction and possibility with this group.

Get help and advice from a mentor or coach if you need it. Keep going until a plan emerges that you know all your key senior leaders can buy into.

Step 2: Monitoring alignment though execution

Be clear about what full commitment to your plan might look like and monitor behaviour, actions, communications and statements. Key to this stage is calling it out when messages are not aligned.

People can forget and return to old thinking very easily so it may be a simple matter of reminding them, but it may be that real commitment gaps are showing up. If alignment cannot be easily achieved, you will need to go back a step and re-group around a revised plan. 

Step 3: Acknowledge commitment and celebrate outcomes

Whatever results you experience it is important that commitment is acknowledged and outcomes are celebrated and discussed. This will empower you and your senior team and allow you to plan for the next phase.

Focusing on small steps can be a useful way of impacting your business long term.

If you have ever swum against a tide you will know how really hard it is. It requires lots of effort and energy to just stay still, never mind move forward. If you swim with the tide you move fast and easily – progress is easy!

This ease is what is possible when you truly have your senior leaders with you so, if you have not yet found your flow, just keep looking and talking, it is there somewhere.

2 Responses

  1. It is just human to know that
    It is just human to know that there are bound to be results before we commit to something. The same rule applies to the workplace with the superiors. They need to get a feel of what they can expect before they are down to take that particular route being recommended.

    1. Totally agree David. Why
      Totally agree David. Why would anyone sign up to something without clarity and confidence regarding the consequences. Our job is to take the risk out of these initiatives.

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Elva Ainsworth

World-renowed 360 degree specialist, author and consultant

Read more from Elva Ainsworth

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