How to Create a Leadership Development Programme for Tech
Making a leadership development programme in the tech industry is critical for overcoming unique management challenges. Here’s how.
By: Leadership Dynamics team
This article is part of our series on leadership development
Progress is at the heart of tech companies’ reasons for being. It’s only natural that professional development practices be at the cutting edge, not only for a company’s self image and ability to attract and retain top talent, but for leadership development programmes to be as effective as possible.
The context of the tech sector creates an opportunity to think beyond the traditional ideas of leadership development. This article will explain the key characteristics of an effective leadership development strategy, and offer tips for implementation.
The importance of new leadership development strategies in tech
For tech companies, there are unique pressures that make a tailored leadership development programme all the more critical to the success of a business.
Constant and rapid change. For emerging tech companies, survival often means scaling quickly to remain ahead of competitors and stay viable for investment. This means the pace of change is more accelerated than in other sectors. Tech businesses often work to 3-month plans which means learning needs to be highly relevant to the stage of growth.
High competition for talent. The intense demand for tech talent means that employees can and do move around. Retaining talent requires offering more than just a paycheck – professional development opportunities are an attractive offer.
Culture as a differentiator. Corporate culture in tech is a powerful tool used to recruit and retain talent. Long hours and intense work environments are balanced with a sense of belonging and community. Hybrid working means culture is even more important than ever to keep the workforce committed to the vision of the leadership, and stay on course for value creation plans. Companies need ways to make sure leaders propagate the culture well, as culture starts from the top.
Disdain for traditional leadership development practices. Technology leaders see their purpose in progress. Any leadership development methods they adopt must be up to date or else there is a danger of a disconnect between how leaders are trained and how the company sees itself. Generic or irrelevant training content can be seen as wasting valuable time and effort
How to create a leadership development programme in tech
The shift from the authoritarian leadership style of the past to a trust-based leadership style has meant that how we develop leaders has had to change as well. Development strategies must incorporate a mix of the traditional and the personalised learning, including relationship-based learnings such as coaching and mentoring to offer highly relevant advice for specific roles. Research shows that 75% of students forget what they've learned within six days if they don't apply it in the flow of work.
Time-poor executives also need to be reached where and when they are available and able to focus, which means offering multichannel learning development, made possible with technology.
An effective leadership development programme will make use of a mix of different learning opportunities and methods, from self directed learning to in-person courses and mentorship. Including:
1. Self-paced e-learning
Access to on-demand online courses can help build technical skills, introduce leadership concepts and techniques such as: giving feedback, delegating, encouraging psychological safety, building trust etc.
E-learning through various apps can help track progress through a lesson, acting as an audit trail for development managers and learners to look back on past learnings.
However, while e-learning can help introduce theory, it should be paired with other methods that are better for practical training. In recent years, a model that has worked well is cohort-based learning. A curriculum is designed to be digested at the learner’s own pace and online, but with live feedback and Q&A sessions scheduled so the group can interact with both the trainers and each other.
2. Continual professional development courses
Continual professional development (CPD) helps future leaders enhance skills and leadership techniques at any point along their career. Some roles within regulated sectors require CPD to stay up to date and retain professional association memberships and accreditations, for example in education and healthcare. It can involve taking a training course, attending an educational event, or studying for technical qualifications.
Compared to self teaching online, this kind of formal in-person learning can improve specific skills or competencies with immediate interactions with a group. Plus being in an environment away from a desk can improve focus.
3. Coaching and mentoring
While online learning, live seminars and training courses are fundamental to a good L&D programme, their effectiveness is amplified with coaching and mentorship. These relationship-based training methods are key to a personalised learning experience.
Pairing potential leaders with leaders who are strong in the competencies they are weak in, or letting them shadow those who have hands-on experience in the target role will help show learners the realities and unique challenges of the job. And in terms of focus, offering facetime with a senior manager is highly attractive to future leaders, which is why mentoring works so well. Read more about the impact of mentorship in tech here.
Coaching works on similar lines by building a trusting relationship. Unlike mentors, coaches are professionally trained in helping people develop in their chosen areas – whether leadership or other technical and soft skills – like a dedicated professional tutor that the learner is accountable to.
4. Job rotations
Identifying a high-potential future leader and rotating them through temporary roles will give them a broad understanding of the business and various departments’ needs and unique challenges. It’s highly valuable for a leader to be able to show an understanding of their employees’ different contexts.
Tips for improving leadership development in tech
1. Make development a path of least resistance
Tech executives at junior and senior leadership positions are all time-poor, which makes it hard to schedule time to focus on leadership development classes, courses and assessments.
Design development solutions that are highly relevant to their work. Increasing the perception of value to the learning will help with the mental cost-benefit analysis of their valuable time. For example, time with a senior leader for mentoring is more attractive than reading course materials because it offers an opportunity to build a valuable relationship.
Chop up learning resources into bite size chunks. Keep it concise and to the point, and only what your leaders will need for your company.
Find creative ways to align the company strategy with development opportunities. For example, if the company is about customer centricity, then try and use customer feedback or research sessions as training opportunities for future leaders. Or if working in a multinational, use inter-office meetings as an opportunity to build cross-cultural management capabilities.
2. Include resilience training for better outcomes
The pressures of leadership in tech come from all angles, often translating to long hours and high stress. Since many leaders are younger than they would be in other sectors, they may not have developed the coping skills necessary. A burned out leader is not a developing leader.
Include resilience training in your leadership development programmes so that individuals can improve their self-regulation (ability to understand and control emotional responses), stay focused on their day-to-day responsibilities and their long-term professional development goals.
3. Create a culture of continuous learning
These days learners can access large parts of learning programmes anytime and anywhere. However, as your future leaders rise through the ranks, their time becomes more and more limited by added responsibilities, and they must balance their focus between immediate and long-term business needs.
By instilling a culture of continuous learning at the company, learners will apply a higher priority to leadership development. You can do this by:
Hiring people with growth mindsets
Fostering an environment of psychological safety by promoting risk-taking and transparency.
Encouraging employees to ask questions often and early.
How to hire people with growth mindsets
The most effective way to ensure the success of any leadership development programme is by identifying the right individuals to develop first. Possession of a ‘growth mindset’ should be in the criteria for identifying any future leaders. So how do you spot this quality?
See our article on How to Develop Leadership Qualities for a High Performing Team for tips on identifying future leaders by pinpointing required behaviours.
By using people analytics tools, you can make sure you are hiring the right people in the first place. Or you can assess who you have in the workforce already – more appropriate in tech where hiring and retention is more difficult.
Our behavioural profiling platform, PACE, looks deeper than traditional psychometric tests, moving beyond personality traits to understand predictors for future behaviour and interactions with other leaders. Try the test for yourself and your team, for free.