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How Market Leaders Accelerate Executive Leadership Development

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Executive developmentWho owns talent? Does it belong to the department that directs its daily activities? To the organization as a whole, to deploy and re-deploy as it sees fit? To the individuals themselves who can take it to a competitor? If your company's culture is mired in silo-think, it can sabotage the development of executives and impede profitable growth.

Talent management is a concept that gets a lot of attention, but a finding from a recent study from the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) shows a significant negative correlation between business silos and an organization's ability to grow profitably. The study suggests that executive talent management - and, particularly, the acceleration of executive leadership development - is being thwarted by silo-think, a phenomenon that has a detrimental effect on market performance, even in high-performance organizations (HPOs).


  • Having too many functional or business silos produced a significant negative correlation (-.22**) to market performance, the third highest of the 17 hindrances to leadership development acceleration studied. One-third (33%) of respondents from HPOs pointed to such silos as a great hindrance to leadership acceleration.
  • Just one in 10 respondents from HPOs (11%) said they used rotations to another major strategic business unit, function or geographic location as an acceleration strategy to any great extent.
  • Four in 10 respondents (44%) from HPOs said their organizations are not using rotations to their advantage to broaden knowledge.
These hindrances prevent rising executives from gaining the broad business perspective or global immersion that might ready them for promotion opportunities. So what's behind this reluctance to expose talented employees to new learning opportunities in other operational units? Several factors may be at play:

The "mine, don't touch" syndrome

One culprit is an ownership mentality about talent. Managers with exceptional employees want to keep them on the job, not send them away to learn something new or get snatched up for a promotional opportunity. They see talent as something they own, and they don't want to share.

The "no time for your people" syndrome

Another problem is the not-my-job mentality. Managers may be wholly focused on the performance and productivity of their own employees and aren't warm to the idea of developing an ongoing rotation of visitors to train and monitor. Their sense of obligation belongs to their own staff.

The "lack of accountability" syndrome

A third issue arises when facilitating the creation of developmental assignments isn't specifically included on a leader's accountability list. More than half (51%) of respondents from HPOs said their leadership development acceleration efforts are hindered by not holding leaders accountable for developing their people. This lack of accountability has a significant negative correlation (-.24**) to market performance. An earlier i4cp study on engagement found that high engagement organizations are twice as likely as low engagement organizations to include engagement measures as part of each line manager's performance review. With a correlation to engagement of 0.22**, organizations that fail to tie engagement to line manager performance measures are missing a key opportunity to improve engagement.

Getting past silo-think

Each of these factors inhibits the creation of job rotation opportunities and with it, the further development of key talent. Job rotations to another function, another business unit or another geographic location can provide rising executives with knowledge and experience they wouldn't otherwise be able to acquire in their own little corner of their corporate world.

The keys to overcoming silo-think involve leveraging systems-thinking, technology and rewards.

  • Use systems-thinking (enterprise-wide awareness of opportunities) to create assignments that can produce useful deliverables that serve the dual purpose of also building new skills or honing current ones.
  • Use technology to connect executives seeking broader learning opportunities with leaders in other business units or geographic locations that could provide them.
  • Use appraisal and rewards to acknowledge efforts of managers actively facilitating the development of others.
Silo-think represents an inability to expand one's sense of responsibility beyond one's job, and it has a detrimental effect on market performance. But accelerating executive leadership development in order to elevate talented individuals within the organization needs to be a shared goal. The creation and support of rotational opportunities can be a significant factor in achieving that goal.

Not every job rotation turns out equally well, though. "I've seen it work really well, and I've seen it work not so well," says Hugh Gagnier, Senior Vice President, Engineering and Operations at Zebra Technologies, an i4cp member firm. Gagnier believes rotations work best regionally, when an individual moves from one position to a similar one in another region.

Dominique Ben Dhaou, Senior Vice President, Human Resources, at Swiss firm SGS, another i4cp member firm, is a prime example of someone who believes in the value of international experience. Her own personal journey to leadership has taken her to Mauritus, an island in the Indian Ocean, as well as to the United States, barely speaking English when she arrived. While she's worked with SGS for 10 years, she says she's been exposed to different roles that have kept change and challenges flowing. Stretch assignments and geographic relocations have figured prominently in her journey to leadership. "I was lucky enough to land in a company that copes well with change and views it positively."

For more information on the approaches high-performance organizations use to accelerate executive leadership development and the barriers they face, download the complimentary summary report now. i4cp members can also download the exclusive full report.

Coming soon: Journey to Leadership Profiles - a compilation of profiles of three executives and their own personal journeys to leadership.

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