May 20, 2019

Nurturing the new guard

Michael Alicea, executive vice president of global human resources for The Nielsen Company, wishes he had a dollar for every time he’s asked if the giant research organization’s Emerging Leaders Program is worth the expense.

He might get rich explaining what he sees as the 13-year-old program’s impressive return on investment: a well-stocked pipeline of high-potential future leaders, a tight-knit cadre of millennials fully networked within Nielsen and a wealth of fresh ideas via intellectual property submissions, patents and white papers.

What’s more, Nielsen’s emerging leaders stay three times longer than the average employee, earn promotions quicker and over time manage more employees than average.

“We bring the emerging leaders in at a great age and great time in their lives,” Alicea says. “We have the chance to mold them. They need zero ramp-up time, they’re highly engaged, and they know our leadership.”

That kind of young-adult vision with precision also drives another such initiative: the BAI Emerging Leaders Network, which continues to nurture future talent that waits in the wings. If you know someone deserving of a spot on this prestigious roster, one mouse click is all it takes to get things under way. BAI is accepting applications for this year’s class through July 26; with a deadline to apply for early acceptance through June 28.

The program reflects BAI’s commitment to fuel an industry trend where tomorrow’s leaders benefit from exemplary guidance, support and preparation, says Debbie Bianucci, president and CEO of BAI.

“At every level in nearly every job, people have a desire to improve,” Bianucci says. “They want to continue to get better and smarter. Banks need to get creative in the way they offer professional development and part of that involves helping employees to learn widely diverse roles.”

As for Nielsen’s program, which taps recent college or MBA grads, the company finances it through small budget surcharges to units across the organization. Support from the top proves especially critical, according to Alicea.

Recognizing the company faced a generational shift as its boomer-generation leaders approached retirement, Nielsen developed its program in five tracks: finance, human resources, commercial, operational/technology and emerging technologist.

Participants typically spend about six months rotating within one of the five tracks. “They will do a functional rotation, a commercial rotation so they can understand the clients, an operational rotation and an international rotation,” Alicea explains. The employee also spends six months in an international office. Nielsen pays for the housing; the employee the rest.

Thanks to the program, Alicea says he and his recruiters can assure promising prospects of an attractive career path at Nielsen. “If someone feels they have room to grow and as though they make a difference, they won’t go elsewhere.”

Building leadership and management chops

At SAS, a global maker of analytics software, supervisors can nominate high-potential employees under 35 for the company’s emerging leaders development program. Launched in 2012, it has produced 113 graduates who progressed as members of seven annual cohorts, according to Jason Huckabee, head of global organizational effectiveness and development.

“The program focuses on building the fundamentals of management and leadership,” Huckabee says. The one-year curriculum includes leadership effectiveness training taught by internal instructors, along with fireside chats with and mentoring from senior leaders “to help emerging leaders understand how they’ve been successful and what got them where they are today.”

Members also work on action learning projects where they interview leaders in different divisions and present their findings to senior leadership. SAS plans to expand the program to its international offices.

Like Nielsen, SAS recognized the imminent shift in generational leadership and wanted to prepare its future leaders. The program also sends a message to potential talent that SAS wants to foster their growth and support their careers, regardless of the direction they choose to take.

“Career development planning is the millennial generation’s love language,” Huckabee says. “Salary is less of a priority for them than career development planning and leadership opportunities. We want to be sure we address those interests.”

Back in school: the ABC’s of a C-suite network

An emerging leader’s success often hinges on his or her network, says Leanne Meyer, executive director of the Accelerate Leadership Center at Carnegie-Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.

“In the first few years of a person’s career, the focus is just on achievement,” Meyer says. “But as his or her career progress, it will be based on their networks of influence. If they’re selling something or developing a new product or program, they’ll need strong internal and external networks, as well as an international network.”

Meyer counsels Tepper’s 240 MBA students that if they want to advance to the C-suite or head their own company, networks of influence aren’t optional: “They’re absolutely vital.”

While some MBA students dismiss leadership skills as something soft or “so much noise,” Meyer could hardly disagree more.

“All our students had been in the workplace for four or five years and are all accomplished in their own technical domains,” she says. “They are all bright and ambitious, but what they don’t yet fully understand is how people think and the way to get into someone else’s head. It will make a difference in their careers.”

Students also rehearse situations that confront leaders as they respond to a sexual harassment complaint, conduct difficult conversations, handle a dinner party gone awry or act as bystander when observing some inappropriate behavior. “Increasingly, business leaders are faced with social and ethical issues,” Meyer says. “We want our students to be prepared to handle those situations.”

Three domains of leadership success

An emerging leader’s receptiveness to feedback may be the most critical of three domains of capability, says Mark Busine, general manager, go-to-market, for Development Dimensions International (DDI), a global HR consultancy.

“It’s essential to a growth mindset; you learn about yourself and move forward as you adapt to new situations,” Busine says.

The second domain is “the ability to persist through obstacles and hard times, and drive toward results and outcomes. You must stick with it through complex, ambiguous environments that rapidly change.”

Finally, an emerging leader must have “a desire to lead or a leadership disposition. They must be prepared to step up and accept leadership responsibilities.”

Busine established his expertise in leadership development, succession management and talent acquisition through HR leadership roles at two of Australia’s largest banks. In his current consulting role, he divides time between his native Australia and the U.S.

“Many banks and fintechs face the enormous challenge of having a pool of ready leaders, but the business environment is changing so quickly it’s hard to keep up,” he says. “The financial services industry must invest as early as possible in an emerging leader’s career.”

For if banks want to teach by example, they must grow leadership by showing leadership.


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A former senior journalism instructor and communications manager at DePaul University, Edmund Lawler is a BAI Banking Strategies contributing writer who lives in New Buffalo, Michigan.

Lou Carlozo is the managing editor of BAI.

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