As the new year gets underway, many organizations are reassessing their leadership development goals. Of course, they’re not the only ones thinking about building better leaders. High-potential employees are busy putting a great deal of thought into their professional future and assessing the development resources available to them. In order to be successful and avoid disruptive talent gaps, high turnover, and low engagement, organizations need to find ways to provide the support these employees need. At the same time, high-potential employees need to understand what they can do to become better leaders.

What Employees Can Do

Individual employees can take proactive steps to build the leadership skills and competencies they will need to further their careers. By embracing an active approach to development, they can better prepare themselves for when opportunities present themselves.

Create a Professional Development Plan

One of the first things everyone should do is put together a professional development plan (PDP) that establishes clear goals and identifies specific actions and resources that will help to achieve them. The major advantage of a PDP is that it allows employees to target short, medium, and long term goals. This makes it easier to see how each step in their career development builds upon the previous step and pushes them closer to their longer-term objectives. Check out OnPoint Consulting’s PDP template for an example of how to create these plans.

Identify Areas of Need

Feedback is critical to leadership development because it provides information about what someone does well and where they need to improve. For aspiring leaders, receiving feedback also helps to build self-awareness and active listening skills. Some truths may be difficult to hear, but leaders need to learn how to respond to criticisms and develop action plans to address their shortcomings. Soliciting feedback from fellow team members, managers, and direct reports is a core function of effective leaders, so getting into the habit of doing so early in their career can make later development much easier.

Make the Most of Available Resources

Many organizations provide a variety of development resources for employees who want to make use of them. Too often, however, people don’t utilize these programs. While there are a variety of reasons why employees may not make the most of learning resources, it’s important for aspiring leaders to prioritize their own self-directed learning. Utilizing the training materials available to them not only helps to build the core skills and competencies they will need to succeed in leadership roles, but it also demonstrates that they are committed to their own learning and development. They should also make every effort to contact potential mentors who can guide them through the development process and provide valuable advice.

What Organizations Can Do

While it’s great to have several high-potential employees working hard to improve their skills, if organizations don’t support these future leaders, they’re liable to lose them in one way or another. There are a number of things companies can do to improve their development process in the new year.

Provide Opportunities

Few things will undermine a high-potential employee faster than not providing them with opportunities to grow. These talented individuals tend to become restless if they’re not challenged to take on greater responsibilities. That restlessness can manifest in a variety of unhealthy ways, including disengagement, negative (or even toxic) behavior, and significantly reduced retention. By providing high-potential employees with a clear path for growth and offering them new challenges, organizations can cultivate a succession pipeline of future leaders who are more than capable of stepping into new roles.

Offer Guidance

Some organizations may hesitate to provide too much career guidance for fear of employees leaving to pursue opportunities elsewhere. However, research demonstrates that proactive development programs play a major role in improving retention rates. That’s because supporting an employee as they work toward their career goals builds trust over time. Working with an employee to create their PDP (and avoid some common mistakes) can also show that there is a future for them in the organization, perhaps even one that they wouldn’t have considered in the past.

Listen to Feedback

There is often a disconnect between the training and development resources an organization thinks their employees need and the ones those employees would actually like to have. Providing easy-to-access e-learning materials might sound like an ideal solution, but if those resources are focused on things that employees already know how to do and aren’t focused on skills and competencies they need in the future, they’re unlikely to see much use. By gathering feedback from employees to find out what kind of leadership development resources they want, organizations can build programs that are more likely to be used.

Effective training and development will continue to be a key differentiator for organizations as younger generations enter the workforce. As competition for high-potential employees becomes more intense, companies must think about how they can engage with these future leaders throughout their careers. The best time to focus on development is long before a leadership position actually becomes available. By putting leadership development programs in place to cultivate leadership candidates long before they’re ready to step into those roles, organizations can build strong succession pipelines filled with highly skilled and engaged employees.