How to groom your company's future leaders

The entry-level employees you just hired may be in charge someday. Get them ready.

Although your company may have a sufficient number of individuals currently in leadership positions, what will your managerial ranks look like in five or seven years? Some employees may retire within that time frame. Others will likely leave to pursue other opportunities.

There will always be turnover, expected and unanticipated. That's why it's essential that your company starts building a solid bench of future leaders now.

The following plan will allow you to identify the right candidates for leadership roles and groom them to someday step up and take the reins of your department or company.

Determine who thrives on change. Observe your employees as they perform their jobs. Do some struggle to adapt to changes and unforeseen events, while others take change in stride and thrive on it? Does the latter group view change as an opportunity to try new ideas and update obsolete processes? Those individuals are good prospects for leadership roles.

Allow strong performers to show their abilities. To encourage your strongest team members to expand their abilities, tell them about your current needs and upcoming projects and ask them to volunteer for more substantial roles. Appointing qualified employees to direct and manage project teams is a good way to nurture leadership potential.

Cross-pollinate. Prospective leaders need opportunities to learn about other areas of the company. You can "cross-pollinate" by training them in complementary areas of expertise. Such rotational programs are an effective and inexpensive strategy for training future managers. Whether rotations involve moving staff into another department or just a different role in the same area for a time, they allow employees to expand their skills and deepen their understanding of your company's products and services.

Take advantage of mentoring. Whether formal or informal, mentoring programs enable potential leaders to build and diversify their skills. Pairing select employees with experienced mentors will provide helpful one-on-one guidance and give them insights into the roles they may occupy in the future.

Provide challenges. If your leadership candidates are not quite ready for advancement, or if an opening does not yet exist, you can still increase their responsibilities and the span of control they have in certain projects or assignments. This gradual, step-by-step approach presents manageable challenges within the familiar structure of their current roles, allowing them to build on existing skills and work on areas of relative inexperience, such as managing teams and making presentations to executive audiences.

Implement low-cost professional development programs. One popular and cost-effective option is e-learning. Providing online instruction through the Internet or the company intranet will permit you to train employees while saving the time and expense of sending people offsite.

Another good option is to encourage employees to engage in knowledge transfer. A staff member who attended a professional seminar or conference might share what he learned with co-workers in the form of a report or presentation during a team meeting.

Discuss leadership paths with promising candidates. During performance reviews, talk to employees about their aspirations and goals. Using their input as a point of departure, think about ways you might restructure positions to accommodate and advance the goals of those you've identified as prospective leaders. This will demonstrate that there are growth opportunities in the future, making it more likely that they will stay with your company as their talents blossom.

Robert Half International is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit www.roberthalf.com