Creating a diverse leadership pipeline using strengths by Sally Bibb, the founding director of Engaging Minds, a specialist strengths consultancy
Sandra loves her job, is proud to work for her company and has a great boss. Being the ambitious and supportive guy he is, he suggested that she apply for the organisation’s brand new Leaders of the Future Development Programme. This development programme was different from anything that the, fairly traditional company had done before.
The programme came about because the CEO had set HR some really tough diversity targets which were all about having a workforce in the next few years that is much more representative of the clients it serves. If they didn’t do something ‘radical’, developing a diverse leadership pipeline could have taken a very long time.
As a comparison, The Metropolitan Police currently has 14% ethic minority officers for a population that is 43% ethnic and growing. HR Director, Clare Davies said “If we continue, even with the great progress we’ve made, it would take over 100 years to be representative of London”.
This organisation did not want things to move that slowly!
The HR Director asked for our help and we suggested that they open the Leaders of the Future Programme up to absolutely anyone in the organisation from any role, any level and any location. They swallowed hard when we suggested that. Their big fear was that they would be inundated with applications and end up with a lot of disappointed people. When we explained how it would work they relaxed a little. People would be chosen based on whether they were likely to be the type of person who would thrive being a leader and who would be good at it. In other words, we needed to make sure that people didn’t feel they had to go for it just to ‘get on’. We needed to explain to them that the organisation was now all about helping people play to their strengths and do jobs where they would be a round peg in a round hole.
We ran a couple of sessions where we explained the Leaders of the Future Programme and how they could apply. We wanted them to tell us about themselves, what was important to them at work and why they wanted to become a boss. In other words, we were going to select people onto the programme based on their strengths.
So, what happened to Sandra? Well, with the encouragement of her boss, she put in an application. She didn’t, however, get onto the programme. She didn’t mind at all but her boss did. He put in an angry call to HR telling them she was one of his high flyers so why had she not been unaccepted for the programme when Victoria (“who no-one had heard of”) had. The HR person repeated what Sandra had told her – she didn’t want to be a manager, she loved her specialism, she enjoyed working independently and her ideal scenario was to become a deeper expert. Whereas Victoria met all the criteria for the programme but she was a fairly new recruit and rather shy so she hadn't become well known yet. It was a lesson for the manager in knowing his people well enough, and it was an experience for Sandra and Victoria in being seen and supported to do what was right for them.
Overall, the Leaders of the Future programme was a completely diverse group. People couldn’t quite believe it. But when you think about it, it makes complete sense, when you select people for who they are (or, in other words, because of their strengths) then that is all that matters.
Sally Bibb is the founding director of Engaging Minds, a specialist strengths consultancy. She’s the author of three books on strengths and works with organisations including the AA, Cunard, EY, NATS (National Air Traffic Control Services), the NHS and Starbucks to introduce strengths-based selection, development and career development to improve engagement, performance and diversity/inclusion.
If you’d like to know more about Sally’s work you can check out www.engagingminds.co.uk or email her on firstname.lastname@example.org