How to attract future leaders with L&D

How do you engage tomorrow’s leaders with L&D? Open University Business School’s Penny Asher tells TJ.

The evidence is there, and to be fair we have known it for some time: leaders, and particularly those of the future, have different expectations to their predecessors. Talent from all generations is becoming more demanding – and being in short supply, their expectations are something organisations cannot ignore.

High potential Generation Z employees don’t feel bound to a single employer to ensure career progression. According to Randstad’s study on ‘Managing Gen Y and Z in the workplace’, 25% of ‘Gen Z’ expect to work at their current company between one and two years, and 29% between three and four years. Attracting and retaining Generation Z employees remains a key challenge for organisations.

Furthermore, the study of over 4,000 employed respondents found that Gen Z want employers to deploy technology much faster in the workplace and this was strongest in ‘outperforming companies’. Combine this with the demand for greater collaboration, communication, and management development, and the need for effective L&D becomes greater.

This appetite and need for development of young people coming into the workforce creates a clear opportunity for attracting and retaining future leaders, but many organisations currently have a poor reputation for learning. This gap between expectations and capability seems to be getting larger, putting organisations at a disadvantage in the war for talent. 

L&D professionals should focus on bridging the gap between current and future leaders’ learning and development aspirations and what organisations are currently offering. 

The traditional dilemma for companies has been to decide whether to invest in talent even though they stand a good chance of losing it. But, we now seem to have moved beyond that, where many future leaders are portfolio careerists, seeking new experiences and challenges and intending to follow a varied career path. 

With this in mind, organisations have no choice but to invest in developing their people, seeking to extend their relationships with employees for as long as possible. While job-hopping may have become the new normal for the talent of future generations, there’s nothing to say they won’t return in the future. 

So what should companies do? As a first step, L&D professionals should focus on bridging the gap between current and future leaders’ learning and development aspirations and what organisations are currently offering.

To do so, most L&D functions – if they haven’t already – will need to change their role to one of a facilitator and enabler so that learners are engaged and can take control of their own development. We need to remember more than ever, that one size does not fit all.

Whether it’s personalised learning or solutions that are customised to specific clusters of talent, organisations need to deliver engagement and impact at scale. 

For many, this means fostering innovation by replacing their course catalogue or legacy learning management system, and integrating social media and collaboration tools. In effect, rethinking L&D investment so that it focuses on activities which generate the most value.

If global in nature, organisations must provide some common framework for learning and development which creates consistency but also allows for local flexibility.

Also, companies need to recognise that the days in which they have time to deliver a structured development programme are numbered. Organisations should stretch talent – where someone may not be 100% ready but for where support for learning and growing into that new role is provided. As such, coaching and mentoring must remain key components of any L&D strategy.

Now is the time to become true learning organisations and deliver the L&D opportunities that tomorrow’s talent is demanding. To bridge the gap and attract and retain future leaders, organisations need to reinvent the learning experience, ensuring that development takes place when, where and how it is needed. 

Whether it is collaborating across silos, innovating globally or rethinking the customer experience, organisations can use the appetite and drive for learning of future generations to address their own business challenges.


About the author

Penny Asher is director of executive education at The Open University Business School


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