December 1, 2011

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Rising Up the Ranks

Plan Ahead to Groom Employees for Leadership Roles

John Coon

December 1, 2011

Promoting from within makes sense on many levels when a company is searching for a new manager. Companies often tap the highest performer in the team to fill a leadership role because the expectation is those same employees will continue to flourish in their new role.

The reality is that transitioning into a leadership role is not that simple. A new manager needs to be given the right tools to succeed. If they do not possess the proper skill set to lead and manage other employees, it can hinder a company’s progress.

New Possibilities

An increasing number of Utah companies recognize the value of educating their employees in all facets of leadership. They are turning to internal mentoring programs and management classes to prepare employees for a future promotion to a leadership role.

Such training and mentoring gives people who never thought they’d achieve a leadership role the opportunity to learn valuable management skills, says Tera Sunder, chief people officer for Nelson Laboratories. “It opens up the possibilities for them.”

Nelson Laboratories developed a 26-week program with several different classes that open avenues for better succession planning and individual employee development. The company requires that internal management candidates take the course before they ever apply for an open management position.

One class educates employees on various supervisory skills. Participants learn important things ranging from team evaluation to asking the right questions in employee interviews. Another class is focused on imparting management skills. It is targeted for employees who graduated from the supervising skills class and are ready to fill higher-level management positions. Course material covers a host of management topics from strategic thinking to interpreting financial data to properly managing a project.

A third course on leadership skills is in the curriculum-development stage. The class will focus on the skills needed to run a company. When the course is ready, every executive at Nelson Laboratories will complete the course.

The overall program serves an important purpose, says Sunder, in giving employees who are already skilled in scientific matters an equal foundation in areas of leadership and management.

“It is critically important and it’s one of the things we have been focusing on,” she says. Nelson Laboratories has spent approximately 6,000 hours doing leadership training with supervisors and upper-level management over the past year alone. “It is about making sure they have the right tools to make the right business decisions, to lead the people they supervise and help them develop for the next level.”

Successful Transitions

Other Utah companies have taken a similarly aggressive approach toward preparing employees for management roles. In 2008, Zions Bank implemented a mentoring program that lets employees work with senior officers in areas where they lack experience. The mentors are subject-matter experts in those areas, and they help employees gain additional skills that better prepare them for future leadership positions within the company.

The mentorship program at Zions Bank spans a six-month cycle and allows for weekly meetings between the mentor and protégé for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Some employees also choose to shadow their mentors to see them in action.

Zions Bank implemented mentoring as a tool to find suitable replacements for key leadership positions when seasoned managers and executives choose to retire. It helps create a succession plan and aids in preparing the successor of the upcoming vacancy. The program has exceeded expectations by improving employee engagement and helping leaders refine their own leadership skills.

“It doesn’t only benefit the individual being mentored,” says George Myers, vice president of human resources for Zions Bank. “It certainly benefits the person who is doing the mentoring because they get growth and development for themselves. It also spills out in a pay-it-forward type mentality.”

Along with the mentoring program, Zions Bank offers a quartet of weekly courses to new branch managers. These courses, which cover all aspects of banking, give managers the skills to be effective in their duties. Attendees learn from a combination of subject-matter experts and case studies.

Myers says these efforts have fostered a greater sense of confidence in those employees who take part in either program. They feel more prepared and qualified to act in whatever role they have with the company.

“Both the mentoring and branch manager programs have a direct connection to improving and raising customer services in those specific areas where the individuals have participated,” Myers says.

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