Workforce Planning for a Leadership Culture: Leadership Talent Drives Business Success

By Peter Saulnier

Numerous surveys of CEOs show that they believe the quality of their leadership talent is a key factor to determining their fate.  As such, HR and other business leaders are asking, “What can my organization do to avoid the risks associated with inadequate leadership, and better prepare our current and future leaders for changes that are yet unforeseen?”

One important part of the answer is effective workforce planning, which, when done well, can create a leadership culture in your organization that will change the way you develop leaders, and create new leadership capabilities.

Leadership Culture in Practice: What’s Your Story?
Leadership practices are the observable, shared behaviours that shape and ultimately define the leadership culture.  According to Ed Schein, a preeminent author on the topic of organization culture, culture can be discerned by listening to the stories that people tell one another about the organization.

The same is true for the leadership culture.  The leadership culture can be discerned by listening to what people say about leaders in your organization.  The stories people tell will be based on behaviours they observe, especially during unusual times that test the true nature of the leadership culture.

When results aren’t achieved, what happens?  Do leaders start looking for scapegoats, or do they engage people in problem solving?  What’s interesting and important to note is that speeches and presentations do not determine how people view the leadership culture.  People listen to speeches, but then they watch closely to see what really happens.

All of the above, makes leadership development strategies as important as CEOs believe.  With robust leadership development and workforce planning processes in place, your organization’s business strategy has a chance to come to fruition.  Without the right leadership, organizational strategies will remain as ink on paper.

Aligning Business and Leadership Development Strategies
Like all business strategies, leadership strategies are based on a thorough analysis of the current situation and an informed view of the future.  The strategy then provides a series of recommendations to close the gap between the current situation and desired future.

Once the leadership strategy is known, a leadership development strategy can be formulated to produce the desired future state, and implications for talent management and workforce planning processes can be identified.  When the strategy is implemented, business results will provide feedback on how well the leadership strategy is working, and help shape new business strategies to be considered with the leadership talent that has been developed.

Essential Elements to be Integrated in Workforce Planning
Workforce planning should be driven by the business strategy and should specify:

  1. How many leaders will be needed over the next 3-5 years and beyond—as well as when, where, and at what level—taking into account the growth needs and projected turnover.
  2. The characteristics leaders should possess when selected or retained, such as:
    – Demographics, including age, gender, culture of origin, education and experience;
    – Internal promotions versus external hires; and
    – Diversity, and targeted diversity, by level and location.
  3. The specific skills, behaviours, knowledge and abilities leaders need by function, level, location or unit to implement the business strategy, such as:
    – Generic behavioural competencies that apply to all leaders in your organization;
    – Specific behavioural competencies by level or function;
    – Generic skills and knowledge required by all leaders in your organization;
    – Skills or knowledge required by level or function;
    – Skills, knowledge or capabilities by location; and
    – Language capabilities.
  4. The key attributes of the culture created by leaders through the way in which they lead, such as:
    – Degree of dependence, independence or interdependence among leaders;
    – Key values that are reinforced through the collective behaviour and actions of leaders;
    – The leadership style exhibited by the majority of leaders (control-oriented, laissez faire, participative); and
    – The leadership practices that are both important and shared across your organization—engaging employees, accepting responsibility, embracing opportunities to make improvements, being customer focused and so forth.

Implications of Leadership Development Strategy for Workforce Planning
The leadership development strategy will in turn have implications for workforce planning processes that affect individual leaders.  Unless these systems, processes and policies are aligned with the leadership strategy, they will fail to reinforce the intended message, or worse, become barriers to success.  Here are some key areas of focus:

Career Planning
Work assignments and career moves are important vehicles for development.  Too often, opportunities to make the most of these assignments are missed.  People spend time in a new division or location, but fail to interact sufficiently with those who could help them understand the new norms.  A cross-functional assignment may be carried out by learning the minimum possible to do the work, or by immersing oneself in the content of the job to take full advantage of the expertise of others.  A career move should always strive for the latter.

Everyone knows the power of compensation to reinforce certain behaviours and not others.  When rewards are not tied to the content of the learning development strategy, the strategy takes a backseat to work or other priorities that are perceived to be more important to one’s pay or future. Failure to align rewards and recognition with learning objectives is perhaps the most common and easily corrected mistake in leadership development efforts.

Performance Management
Rewards and recognition are basic instruments for changing behaviour, but a performance management process should be more continuous, more targeted and more individualized.  Importantly, in addition to allowing an organization to evaluate and guide a leader’s performance, a strong performance management process will also support and specify how learning and development should occur for that organization’s leaders at all levels.

Recruitment and Selection
It makes sense, when possible, to begin leadership development with people who are already inclined to do what the organization needs them to do.  Some organizations believe that their highly selective sourcing strategies are the key to their continued success.  If there are leadership positions in your organization that don’t require the best talent available, those positions are probably candidates for outsourcing.  As organizations adopt new business models, expand into new territories or adopt bold new strategies, they often try to get there with the leadership they already have, instead of getting the leadership they need.

Peter Saulnier is a partner with LoganHR, a Vancouver-based consulting firm specializing in organization development, compensation, and career transition.  He can be reached at 604-687-8607 or

(PeopleTalk Winter 2015)


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