For long-term, sustainable growth, companies need strategies that will identify the emerging leaders within their organizations and build out the talent bench strength to sustain their businesses through industry and economic changes.
But dedicating resources to such long-term success often takes a back seat to the short-term goals necessary for a company’s survival. That’s one reason we asked A.R. Smith, a 30-year veteran of the mortgage industry who has built successful leadership teams from start-up to growth companies, to speak on the topic at the engage.talent summit on Feb. 6.
In a session titled ”It’s All About Leadership: Developing a Strategy for Sustained Growth,” Smith will walk us through the strategies she uses to develop bench strength for future growth and performance. Using her experience implementing these strategies at her own company as a case study, Smith will demonstrate exactly what works — and what doesn’t.
We sat down with Smith, the cofounder and managing director of Adams and Smith Elite Consulting, ahead of the conference to talk about pushing through the roadblocks to long-term growth.
HousingWire: Why is it so important to have a strategy for leadership development?
Smith: We all talk about people development and culture and that is important, however, it is important to have practical strategies for ongoing implementation of leadership within an organization or it gets pushed aside for the work and tasks that seem more urgent in the moment. Good leadership identification and development within an organization takes time and focus, it does not happen without intentional focus.
From an organizational structure, good leadership takes the company to higher revenue growth and profitability. A well-thought-out plan allows bench strength from within the organization, reducing the need to recruit from outside the organization in times of growth.
From my own experience as a COO in mortgage operations, I had to take an unexpected medical leave for six months. My absence left a leadership gap within the organization because the management team did not have anyone prepared for that role. The organization had a strong CEO who was strategic, but the execution of those strategies into operations severely lacked leadership. Were we still originating and closing loans? Absolutely! But our growth as a company was flat. There was not a growth mindset to move the company toward future growth — it was about getting through the day, week or month.
After returning from medical leave, the organization became intentional through our strategic planning process and the insights of a consultant to identify and prepare the next level of leadership so that the company was set up for sustainable growth even when a key leader was absent from the organization.
I always ask that companies include an initiative in their strategic plans to include leadership development and be intentional in the specific outcomes, one of which should revenue and profitability growth outcomes.
HousingWire: Why do you think companies find leadership development so hard?
Smith: It is different with each company and client. Most organizations have some budget for developing people, though it is not generally connected to organizational strategic goals. Has the executive team identified where they will have leadership gaps as well as identified high-growth individuals to be mentored and prepared for a larger role within the organization?
Most executive leaders do not have the time or skill set to design and implement a leadership program, and the reoccurring themes tend to be:
- Overly loyal to existing managers who are not leaders
- It will require committing to a 12-18 month program when most organizations are focused on immediate results
- It will require a change of behavior for the C-suite leaders to be more intentional in executing and participating in an implementation plan for recruiting, assessing, and developing emerging leaders
- It will require investing in a consultant with the skill set to perform an assessment and set up the specific program for their organization.
HousingWire: What are some of the most important aspects of succession planning?
Smith: Succession planning is about setting the company up for sustainable growth for future years with leadership that can adapt to the changing economic and employment environment.
Succession planning is more than finding and preparing the future executive (CEO) for the organization when he/she retires, instead it’s allowing emerging leadership to take on growth challenges while the current executive (CEO) can focus time on developing new lines of business or expanding into existing channels.
HousingWire: How do you help CEOs and other leaders think long-term for growth?
Smith: During an assessment, I will ask the CEO questions on the growth of the company in their three-year strategic plan, go over the functional organizational chart, and learn the style and skill set of the CEO. The assessment of skill sets and future needs of the organization starts with the CEO and his executive team.
From my experience, most CEOs and executive teams know they have leadership gaps but find it difficult to assess what to do about those issues. Plus, you want to be an organization that can develop leaders internally as they will carry on the culture set by current leadership.
Investment in emerging leaders provides benefits to the individual and the organization. Companies that focus on intentional leadership development, find that their leadership program becomes a recruiting magnet for new talent.
For example, I worked with a client in the medical field who asked me to come in and assess their organizational leadership team. They had won awards for their work on advanced website design and customer acquisition.
However, there was high turnover: even though the frontline staff was committed to the mission of the organization, they were stressed and felt the organizational structure was chaotic with task assignments and timeframes to get projects completed. The organization became constrained on how many projects they could complete on a timely basis, impeding future revenue growth.
This leader had the foresight to recognize that the current organizational structure would not support ongoing growth that was being driven by the strategic plan. The team had managers that needed training and coaching on people development as well as cross functional project management.
Through a planned development program over 12 months, we were able to recruit a new leader for a critical new channel of business and bring up the performance of the existing managers through revenue-based, cross-functional team performance.
Don’t miss the opportunity to learn more from Smith and other incredible speakers at the engage.talent summit on Feb. 6 — get more information and register here.