The Prime Minister has recently made an announcement about the process of “re-opening” the Australian economy, and a critical part of that being retraining and investment in skills development. Chris Gardner has also touched on the importance of HR in a crisis. This gave us reason to ask whether, even though some employers are going to need to be focussed on simply surviving, this might be a perfect opportunity to identify and target development of your emerging talent?

Like the “battlefield promotions” of past times, if you look to the longer term, the complex challenges coming out of COVID-19 could provide a unique chance to identify and accelerate your core group of emerging leaders so they’re ready to help take your organisation forward once the economy re-opens.

This is not just a “rapidly-changing environment” – it’s fair to say it’s been chaos. Managers are gaining decades worth of invaluable leadership experience in mere months. Leaders have had to learn overnight how to do business in a lockdown, and as restrictions begin to ease around Australia and other parts of the world, they will need to learn how to do business in a COVID-safe way.

While still in the middle of the scrum it may be difficult to spot your star players, but difficult times can draw out the best in natural leaders. There are a few things that will be worth starting to think about now:

  • looking “outwards” is important in the current environment, but don’t forget the development of the team itself, and the skills that future managers will need to succeed;
  • at least for the foreseeable future, managers will probably need to be adept at managing information flows, relationships, and culture in a socially-distanced but virtually-connected way – are your future leaders getting opportunities to practice? Many organisations are looking for ‘project’ work to keep teams productive and engaged whilst normal operations are interrupted. Is there scope to allocate stretch projects to your high-performers, backed with autonomy and accountability? It may be worth reminding senior managers to look out for chances to bring emerging leaders off the bench and give them a run;
  • all business leaders need to develop a level of comfort working in uncomfortable, uncertain circumstances, and that will continue to hold true. Less-experienced leaders will need to become skilled at strategic scanning – constantly looking to the future with an eye out for the best opportunities. To be future-fluent they’ll also need to hone a keen interpretive ability, to make sense of evolving situations and catch the curveballs.

Do you have a plan in place for supporting less-experienced leaders to develop the skills, confidence and agility needed to quickly action good decisions, without being frozen trying to reach ‘perfect’ decisions? And can you find ways to create rapid-cycle feedback loops to accelerate the learning process? Taking steps now to coach your talented team-members will help cultivate trusted leaders who have form in super dynamic environments, and can rise to the occasion when there is so much uncertainty ahead. With intentionality and some well-invested time, senior leaders can make big gains on one of the toughest challenges of all – building the next generation of leaders.