Strong leadership is important for the success of any organization, but it is particularly critical for small businesses. Due to their reduced employee base, small businesses require robust leadership. Those with a subpar leader can collapse in the blink of an eye. This is why businesses of all sizes have prioritized the implementation of learning and development (L&D) programs.
L&D programs are designed to coach new and existing employees to take ownership of their work, take initiative and seek new, greater responsibilities. Along with training employees, an L&D program can help with retention efforts, raise office morale, create more effective teams and cultivate a sense of leadership based on the company’s mission and vision. If your small business does not have an L&D program in place, do not fret. Here are four ways to kickstart your company’s leadership program today.
1) Start by questioning everything
Questions are always encouraged when starting a new job. Why does that have to stop? In fact, it doesn’t; nor should it. Employees who constantly ask questions can help their peers acquire knowledge while also eliminating confusion. HR professionals who ask questions about current leadership pitfalls and successes can develop a more informed L&D program that considers leadership structure and employee values.
Every company will have different goals, visions, and missions. This means the questions will vary between every company. Here are a few basic questions relevant for most organizations.
- What are some characteristics leaders should have/should not have?
- What missed opportunities have you noticed from leadership, if any?
- Where is leadership lacking and/or excelling?
- On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your leadership team? Please explain your answer.
- Do you know of any planned leadership changes?
It is easy to ask softball questions that will make an organization’s leaders appear unequivocally successful. But to create a successful L&D program built to last, HR professionals must ask tough questions and encourage honest answers. For this reason, it’s important to keep the answers to survey questions anonymously. Otherwise, employees may feel uncomfortable answering questions truthfully.
2) Promote from within
Most companies will face a time when a new leader needs to be selected quickly. Once chosen, the new leader will likely need to hit the ground running. While it is often instinctual for a small business’ HR department to keep current employees in their positions and hire a new leader externally, HR professionals should also consider the benefits of hiring internally. For example, current employees are more likely to understand the company’s mission more accurately and anticipate leadership concerns.
When hiring from within, it is important to understand the career aspirations of all employees. As discussed earlier, asking questions is highly encouraged to promote a better understanding of what is needed at an executive level. After HR professionals have discussed and documented employees’ career goals, it’s time to act on them and encourage employees to become involved in tasks that fit their desired role. This can be accomplished by assigning employees to project leadership, asking them to collaborate on tasks with colleagues, and even enrolling in job shadowing programs.
Involving employees in high-level tasks can prepare them for their next career move. Most of the time, engaged employees will have no problem with heightened responsibilities. However, occasionally, a few realize they are not on the right track for their career goals. That can be expected. It’s better to identify that fact early so current leaders and HR professionals can redirect employee attention to a role that is more suited to their needs.
3) Avoid blind spots
When current leadership finds out someone is leaving their position, leadership may form early impressions about which internal candidates would make a good replacement. It’s easy to unknowingly become close-minded during the hiring process. Just because a candidate is the first option to come to mind doesn’t mean they are the best fit for the job.
With an effective L&D program, all employees will have the same development training to ensure everyone is given equal opportunities for advancement. The plan will also ensure mistakes made on the behalf of new leaders will not prove costly, as L&D program participants are far more likely to redirect in productive ways.
4) Assess the L&D program and see what can be improved
The last step to creating a strong L&D program should come as no surprise: assess how the program works for your small business and find areas of improvement. Like writing a paper, the first draft is never perfect, which should be expected. There will always be areas that can be improved. Or, if an L&D program is several years in the making, HR professionals may find that times have changed, and the program’s protocols can be improved.
Current leaders should keep an eye on the number of employees participating in the L&D program as well as how long it takes for participants to move to a different position within the company after enrolling in the program. By collecting feedback from employees on lessons learned, leaders can better understand what should be improved in future iterations of the program.
Developing a successful L&D program can help keep the best employees around and turn them into a superior version of their professional selves. Current leaders can build a successful plan by asking questions, promoting within the company, keeping an open mind and striving for continuous improvement.
Brian Anders joined WorkSmart Systems in 2019 as the Director of Human Resources. He has extensive experience in all aspects of HR within the service industry and primary areas of acumen include employee relations, organizational training and development, project and talent management, and recruitment. Brian is a graduate of Indiana University and is SHRM-CP Certified with National SHRM and the Indiana State SHRM Chapter membership.
L&D stock image by Alexander Supertramp/Shutterstock