Why investing in your future leaders should be a priority

Business Impact: Why investing in your future leaders should be a priority
Business Impact: Why investing in your future leaders should be a priority

People are your key assets and it is largely people who are going to drive your growth. I have always found that the best way to ensure a culturally aligned team is to find great talent at the early stages of their career and grow with them, so they one day become your ‘culture carriers’ and senior leadership team.

In this way, they will have been moulded into what you want your team to be: how they treat people absolutely aligns with your culture, their energy is exactly what you need and their understanding of your vision and core values is deep. Nurturing talent takes time, but it is worth it and it can save you from having to make key hires later, which can be expensive, with senior people difficult to attract and not as culturally aligned.

Growing your team requires time and planning. It means having a talent-acquisition strategy and it means having a great review process and check-in system to ensure you know where everyone wants to go. Above all, it means making sure everyone in your team knows that you believe they are capable of quick career progression.

I have always believed in promoting people as soon as possible. If someone shows a skillset capable of moving up, I have sometimes promoted them before they are quite ready, but in the knowledge that the opportunity will be appreciated and that, with extra help, they will make it.

Investing in your future leaders is just that – an investment. It is your succession plan, your driver of new ideas, your cultural glue and your continuity. HR can help with this, but there is nothing that makes someone feel like a future leader better than you, as the CEO, spending time with them. It is worth the effort.

Your non-perishable store of superstars

In a fast-growing business, you will have to constantly make shifts in your leadership team and reposition people. You need to be aware of who you will need in key roles in five or 10 years’ time. You can’t rely on bringing the right people in when you need them. You need a full store of potential leaders who have embraced your culture that you can tap into when you need them for crucial roles, while ensuring that they are energised and motivated along the way, not waiting on a dusty shelf for their moment to shine. This means thinking ahead and about where your next generation are, growing them into the roles you have in mind for them, so that you can choose the right moment to elevate them.

As you scale, you need to know who in the team is going to carry your culture forward and you need to make sure that you have enough of these people at each level. Who is going to be each level’s culture champion? Junior employees are extremely relevant here because they can be the ‘culture carriers’ for their cohort and you can accelerate them into the teams that need them.

Once you know who your rising stars are, it’s important that you show them your big picture and make sure they know how you see their acceleration through the business. Don’t assume they know if you don’t tell them. That means making sure you are proactive in having conversations in which you say: “You’re great at this. What are you thinking about your career progression?” If you can make it clear to people when they are fairly junior where you think they could go, that you believe in them and that you will help them get there, this will tie them in and build their loyalty.

Listen to your gut when hiring or promoting and focus on a candidate’s attitude rather than their skillset. Focus on what you will need from them in the future and whether or not they are a good fit for your culture, rather than whether they solve immediate problems. In addition, make sure you think carefully about how to support people into management and leadership positions, including preparing their team for the promotion and how it might affect them.

Sam Smith is the founder and former CEO of finnCap Group. She is now an adviser to scale-up businesses and a non-executive director on the board of Sumer Group Ltd. She is also the author of The Secret Sauce, which explores how empathetic leadership can help superscale any business and empower the company’s talent.

Read more Business Impact articles related to leadership:

Business Impact Volume 17 (3: 2023)

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