Developing High Potential Millennial Leaders – Building Executive Bench Strength by 2025

October 2, 2015 | Charlotte Hughes | HCI
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Earlier this year Deloitte’s Global Human Capital Trends 2015 found that developing millennials rated as one of the top challenges by 86% of surveyed HR and business leaders, and it is especially challenging in developing millennial leaders. In the next 5 years, millennials will make up half of the US workforce. Surveys indicate two thirds of this growing talent pool plan to leave their organizations within the next 3 years.  Engaging and retaining high potential millennials in particular is a high priority to ensure a pipeline of leaders to drive future company growth.  

Succession Planning – How Millennial High Potentials are Different

Millennials represent a growing segment of the workforce. Their distinct preferences, passions and expectations regarding work life and aspirations toward leadership roles appear to differ from previous generations. While Boomers were taught to be patient, persistent, and loyal and in return, receive rewards for their effort over time, high potential Millennials highlight other traits.

Developing High Potential Millennials – Best Practices

  • Emkay, the leading logistics firm, offers an example of a high impact development approach. High potential middle managers across the organization partner with members of the senior leadership team to complete projects over the course of the year. Not only does this apply a thorough approach to solving problems across the whole organization, it also helps executives get a sense for who among middle management top talent might eventually make for C-suite material. 
  • Merck defines leadership competencies and geographically unique experiences for millennial leaders that are highly relevant to their own business needs to execute the company strategy in emerging markets.  ‎Led by Executive Director, Enterprise Learning & Development, Nancy Singer, and based on Harvard Business Publishing’s Leadership Direct program, content areas were designed to help participants shift from serving as transactional managerial contributors to guiding as strategic transformational leaders. Merck’s senior leadership serving in teaching positions proved to be a key program element.                 
  • Baptist Health System, based in Jacksonville, Florida, is a network of five hospitals, affiliated with 45 primary care offices located throughout Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia.  Chief Learning Officer Justin Lombardo explains they look for leadership candidates with “1) consistency in action, values and mission 2) the ability to think critically about situations and contribute thoughtfully to discussions and 3) dedication to the work of the team.”  In most industries and healthcare in particular, “leadership in the future is a team sport.” Baptist Health provides challenging stretch assignments emphasizing the importance of collaboration and building strong networks to achieve results.    
  • Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky focuses on three areas when assessing millennial leaders; “First is performance because you always want to have leaders who are committed to high performance and handling a wide range of different scenarios.  Second, I always focus on what’s their track record of developing future leaders. One of my favorite questions is to ask people is, “If I asked you who had the biggest impact on your career and how they did that, who are those four people that you would name?” At a senior level, if they can’t name three or four fairly senior level people, then immediately I question their wherewithal in people development.  Lastly, I’ll ask how do they move their businesses, how do they develop talent with our credo in mind. It gives me an indication of how committed they are to developing individuals, to developing teams and frankly, figuring out how to work through others to get their jobs done.” 
  • 5 Key Methods for Developing High Potential Millennials

    In my experience, these five methods are most effective:

  • Mentoring and Coaching - highly effective means to enable millennials to become more self-aware and develop capability to achieve organizational and professional career goals.
  • Cross Functional Task Force - exposure to leaders across the organization to solve problems improves understanding of departments, roles, relationships, and the big picture.   
  • 70:20:10 - the development model is still valid, just adjusted to deliver more frequent and focused feedback in virtual and face to face communication channels to address millennial preferences.
  • Lattice vs Ladder - offer several opportunities for lateral moves and rotations to explore and understand the business. Career growth is not solely about promotions to the next level. 
  • Skill-Based Volunteerism - completing an assignment in a non-profit organization of the millennials choice offers a personally satisfying leadership opportunity to give back and gain perspective.
  • Accelerating the development of high potential millennials is an imperative for organizations to build bench strength and lead companies into the future.  With the company business strategy and leadership skills and behaviors in mind, identifying and developing high potential millennials using best practices improves the chances of achieving long term growth of the company and retaining this valued talent pool.