Senior leaders consistently report that they don’t have enough time for mentoring and developing others.
Up-and-coming leaders consistently report wanting more guidance, mentoring, and face time to learn from senior leaders.
One way to address this dilemma? Developmental networks.
When it comes to developing people, your job is to ensure that you have the talent to meet current and future challenges. An efficient and effective way to do this is to take a network approach to development.
Instead of taking on the formal role of sole coach or mentor to those you are responsible for developing (or to meet that performance metric of “develops others”), you can help your talent build a network of relationships that will – as a whole– provide the support they need for the next role or level.
Research conducted by Kathy Kram (Boston University) and Monica Higgins (Harvard University) indicates that people who develop faster have a strong network of developmental relationships. This parallels findings from Rob Cross (University of Virginia) that shows a clear correlation between high performance and robust networks.
As someone responsible for developing others, you can help your talent learn and grow in a more strategic way. Here’s how it works:
1. Start by looking at current developmental relationships. Help your direct report or mentee assess what their developmental network looks like. Explain that a developmental network is made up of individuals who have a genuine interest in your development and who are qualified to assist you in your learning. Keep in mind, developmental relationships are deliberately and clearly about learning and growth. You can quickly get a picture of the network by asking, during the past 12 months who are the people who have taken an interest and concerted action to help you advance your career? See if they can list 5-10 and then note the type of relationship (boss, peer, direct report, family, etc.)
2. Next, identify the target. What’s your mentee’s next move? What is the specific next role, assignment, or level that he or she wants to go after? This gives you a “developmental target” – the thing you are driving all your learning efforts toward. Think in terms of succession and long-term personal goals.
3. Refine and align the network. Is the developmental network your mentee currently has able to provide support for the next role or level? What is missing? Who can help fill the gaps? Be sure to consider the following as you help others look to strengthen or balance their network:
- Are you reaching out to people from different functions, with different roles, and who have diverse backgrounds and experiences?
- To what extent do the people in your network know each other? If “everybody knows everybody” you may be getting redundant information.
- Strength of network ties. What is the level of engagement and the quality of each relationship? What ties are close; what ties are weakest? Both have advantages, so don’t limit yourself to your strongest
Finally, what patterns do you see in the network? Ask questions like:
- Are you over or under-utilizing someone in your network?
- Do people in your network know someone you would like to know or should connect with?
- How can you leverage your developmental network to achieve that desired future?
With this simple process, your direct reports and mentees can start looking for and lining up key people to add to their developmental networks. You’ll check in periodically and even steer them to specific people, make introductions, but you are no longer front-and-center in the development process. Your mentees are not exclusively “attached” to you – freeing up your time and energy. Just as important, your talent doesn’t have all their relational and developmental assets tied to one person.
Another plus? The organization benefits from a more robust pool of people involved in building talent.
One last note to all you over-scheduled senior managers. Don’t overlook your own developmental networks. The same strategies that will work for your mentees or direct reports will work for you.