Top Tenets for Executive Development Part One

Organizational Foundation

HR4D recently had the honor of presenting to leading Wisconsin companies on succession planning and executive development.  When we think about the most effective executive leaders, HR4D believes that how you get things done becomes increasingly more important than what you get done.  The same is true when you are working to develop your executive leaders and your future leaders!  So, we focused our time on sharing our top ten tenets on how to make executive development effective.  The punchline is: to make executive development successful, it is not about what you do it, but how you do it!  In this four-part blog we will cover these tenets in more detail.  Too impatient to wait for all four parts? Shoot me an email and I’ll share all ten tenets and you won’t have to wait!

Today, we will start with three foundational tenets.  We say these are foundational, because getting these three right greatly increases the chance of success:

  1. Ensure organizational alignment
  2. Engage the manager
  3. Partner with the employee

1. Ensure Organizational Alignment

Getting alignment

Our first focus area is ensuring alignment with top leadership on expectations and needs for organizational growth and development. This includes establishing and writing down a clear set of expectations regarding continued development, telling the impacted people – employees and managers, and holding them accountable to our expectations.  So, the question is – what are the expectations?  Here are a few examples of questions that should be answered:

  • What are the organizations expectations around employees continuing to develop?  
  • What is the organizational mindset?  Does leadership believe that people have a certain amount of talent and can’t do much about it (fixed mindset)? Or do they believe leadership skills can be learned and developed (growth mindset)?
  • How does the organization define development? Is it only upward movement or does it include development inside their current role or lateral movements?  
  • How much is the organization willing to support development with resources, both time and dollars?
  • What are the organizational expectations for executive growth?  Is it ok for an executive to not want to continue developing and stay in their role? Or is there concern that they could be blocking other high-potential employees from their full growth potential?
  • What are the expectations of a manager and other leadership to grow talent of their people and within the organization even outside of their current structure?  Is growing talent celebrated or even rewarded?

Once these questions are answered, sharing the expectations with the executives helps them know what the organization expects from them. 

2. Engage the Manager (of the executive)

Most of you are likely thinking, yes, of course the manager is involved in their employee’s development. But, I mean something different than the typical approach.  It is important to really engage the manager – get them involved in setting expectations for their employees, have the manager participate in the actual development of their employee, and ensure they are holding their employee accountable.  How do you do all that?  The first thing is to be clear about expectations and ensure that the manager understands that they have significant responsibility for developing any employee reporting to them.  This includes setting expectations for developing others in the organization at each level of leadership. Typically when a leader is elevated in the organization, the expectations for how that leader contributes changes along the way, not only in developing others, but in strategic contribution, budgetary responsibility, decision making, etc. Unfortunately, organizations are not always explicit about these changing expectations.  So, it is important to make sure the employee also understands that the higher they go in the organization, the more responsibility they have for developing their own staff and for developing others in the organization. Weaving these expectations into your people practices is key – include it in position descriptions, assess capability during the selection process, measure it in performance reviews, and recognize/reward leaders who are great at developing their employees. 

The second component is to recognize that the manager is critical before, during and after any identified development activities.  They should be helping their employee identify growth opportunities, reinforcing the learning they had, providing timely feedback and holding the employee accountable to the putting the learning into place. This preparation and reinforcement work moves the development activity into application and increases the likelihood of behavior change.  The manager is in the best position to do this work because they have first-hand knowledge of the gaps the employee needs to fill, how the employee is performing and how a development opportunity should impact that person.

3. Partner with the Employee (the executive)

So, now we’ve got the organizational expectations set, and the manager involved.  What’s left to set a solid foundation?  Partnering with the executive to make it personalized and impactful.  Too often HR creates development programs for the organization and requires that all executives go through the same development activities.  For example – we put them in a leadership training program that is 18-months long versus asking the employee what they need or want to focus on.  

This approach can lead to executives not being as engaged in the development process, or worse, can cause them to be critical of the development program. Executives usually have decades of experience and have been through many development initiatives throughout their career.  And, some of those happened before they even joined your organization.  


Instead of using a one-size fits all approach, have the executive be responsible for drafting their development plan and identifying what they are going to work on.  Have them help identify activities they think will give them the most growth. I’m not saying they should do it 100% on their own.  It certainly makes sense to have the manager and HR help them brainstorm if they are stuck. And, there definitely needs to be a review of whether the development plan is quality and will actually address the gaps that exist.  But, make sure that an employee’s development doesn’t get outsourced to HR or the manager.  The employee has to be involved.

Putting these three tenets into place will set a solid foundation that you can build upon to increase the effectiveness and success of your executive development.  Next time, our focus will be the tenets that increase the impact at the individual executive level.  Until then, I’d love if you shared how you put these tenets into practice in your organization! Send me an email or hit me on LinkedIn with your thoughts.

Jennifer is a seasoned leader and executive coach with more than 20 years experience including as a Chief Human Resources Officer overseeing the HR and Communications functions. She is a Professional Certified Coach through the International Coaching Federation.

HR4D’s mission is to ensure our client organizations fulfill their visions, by adopting their goals as ours, creating solutions that are right for them, and making the people who hire us professionally successful.  Contact us to learn more!