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Today’s organizations face a unique challenge. Despite recognizing the value of improving their leadership pipelines and making investments in leadership development, nearly 30% of them still describe their candidate pool as “weak” or “very weak.” Even worse, only 7% reported “excelling” at developing millennial leaders, which is quite troubling given that millennials are the largest generation in the workforce.

The core problem seems to be that companies are doing a poor job of identifying and grooming potential leaders early in their careers. Given that millennials routinely identify opportunities for learning and development as a key motivating factor in their career decisions, not making the most of high-potential employees can lead to serious retention problems and make future succession problems even worse.

Companies looking to develop their next generation of leaders would benefit from taking the following factors into consideration:

1: Identify Your Future Leaders

It may seem a bit obvious, but the most important step in grooming candidates for leadership positions is actually identifying them in the first place. Many organizations don’t have an effective process in place for identifying high-potential employees, instead making decisions based on unreliable factors such as who works late or what a manager’s “gut feeling” is about someone. People are often promoted simply due to tenure or current performance, which might not even be relevant to future leadership positions.

Successful succession programs implement assessment processes to evaluate employees on the basis of ability, aspiration, and engagement to identify high-potential candidates. These employees demonstrate a desire to lead early on in their careers and are generally motivated by a desire to help the organization achieve its goals. They work to build trust and create a positive work environment while remaining high levels of engagement. Only about one-in-seven high-performing employees actually has high potential for leadership positions, which makes finding these candidates especially important for any organization willing to make the investment in developing them.

It’s never too early to begin this search. Employees with leadership talent will usually make themselves visible early by being proactive, investing in their work, and taking on responsibility. If a candidate isn’t identified quickly, there’s a very real chance they will become frustrated and look elsewhere for leadership opportunities. Even if a position isn’t immediately available, engaging with high-potential employees quickly sets the development process in motion, making it easier for them to step into a new role when they’re needed.

2: Formulate a Development Plan

After identifying quality leadership candidates, the organization needs to come up with a development plan that maps out the employee’s journey from where they currently are to where they could end up in the future. This process should begin with a conversation with the candidate, who may not have a good idea of how they’d like to see their career progress. With the full range of opportunities laid out before them, they can make informed decisions about where they’d like to end up.

This conversation should result in the creation of a professional development plan (PDP), which establishes career development goals and outlines a strategy for meeting them. Formulating a PDP is a valuable step because much of it is based upon input from the candidate. It helps them to set long term goals and establish benchmarks they can use to gauge their progress and hold themselves accountable for their career trajectory.

From a practical standpoint, understanding what type of positions a candidate is interested in seeking can be tremendously valuable for an organization. It makes little sense to waste valuable resources preparing someone for a position and responsibilities they may not even want. By working with them to identify needs and goals, organizations can make sure that they’re developing candidates as efficiently and effectively as possible.

3: Provide Learning Resources and Opportunities

After identifying leadership candidates and putting a development plan together, companies need to begin the ongoing process of training and development. Every candidate has different needs based on their existing skills and their desired competencies, but with a clear development plan in place, it’s much easier to align training content with those goals.

Luckily, the educational tools that help people to learn and practice new skill sets are more accessible and effective than ever before. Whereas companies once relied on expensive off-site training programs, they have increasingly embraced a blended learning approach that emphasizes the needs and learning styles of the learner. By making these resources readily available whenever and wherever employees need them, candidates can structure their ongoing education in ways that make the most sense for their schedules.

While e-learning resources and classroom training are incredibly valuable, they’re not the only development opportunity available to leadership candidates. Some skills are best learned by doing, so organizations should take deliberate steps to provide high-potential leaders with the chance to take on new responsibilities and roles in the workplace. Temporary tasks like placing them in charge of a project, taking part in a cross-functional team, or sending them abroad can help people gain excellent experience across a range of competencies.

4: Follow Up Regularly

Leadership development is an ongoing and often iterative process. Regular communication and feedback will help candidates to evaluate their progress and help the organization assess how far they’ve come in terms of developing desired competencies. It’s important to keep this follow up consistent to avoid gaps in training or miss development opportunities. Candidates are also more likely to look outside the organization if they begin to feel they’re no longer valued.

Grooming leaders for success is a critical task for today’s organizations. By maintaining a group of qualified, high-potential candidates for leadership positions, companies can avoid the hazards of succession problems and ensure that they are prepared for the future. Harnessing the potential of these candidates as early as possible also maximizes their potential for innovation and developing creative solutions, which can help provide a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace.