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The Top Executive Breeders

In my first column, I described the disturbing findings our firm (Executive Development Associates, Inc.) reported in its 2004 survey. In it, many of the of 100 companies polled worldwide say they, “lack the quality and depth of executive talent needed to grow and compete in the future.” Just a few other pithy comments from the survey conclusions that help transition to today’s topic: “We’ve taken our eye off the ball during a few years of economic decline and now we’re paying the price for our short-sightedness.”

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In my first column, I described the disturbing findings our firm (Executive Development Associates, Inc.) reported in its 2004 survey. In it, many of the of 100 companies polled worldwide say they, “lack the quality and depth of executive talent needed to grow and compete in the future.” Just a few other pithy comments from the survey conclusions that help transition to today’s topic:

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“We’ve taken our eye off the ball during a few years of economic decline and now we’re paying the price for our short-sightedness.”

“Executive and leadership development directors and CLOs are worried that their companies will lack the leadership capacity to achieve strategic objectives.”

“Creating an integrated talent management system is the solution, but we aren’t good at it.”

“The need to invest in the next generation of business leaders is crystal clear.”

So the big question is, is anyone good at developing executive talent? Who’s best at it? To find out, we decided to create a process to identify the top companies. And we wanted to be as objective as possible.

But let’s back up a minute, why should you care? Our premise is that this is really important! It goes something like this: The accelerating rate of change and global competition within most major industries is an enormous challenge for organizations today. Organizations can only be successful in this environment if they have executives with strong leadership skills, the capacity to identify and address major business challenges, and the personal effectiveness skills necessary to achieve and sustain excellence. Executive development is a significant challenge for organizations and most recognize that they need to do a much better job. The research mentioned earlier among major corporations globally, revealed that 71% are coping with difficulties in ensuring replacements for key jobs, a measure that’s frequently referred to as a company’s “bench strength.” So big deal — why not just raid the executive talent from other companies? That’s worked pretty well in the past.

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Not so fast! The problem is, everyone’s in the same boat. Remember, 71% say they don’t have the talent either. Now what?

Well, the fact is some companies are better at developing executives and keeping their talent pipeline full. This creates a significant competitive advantage that builds over time as they’re recognized as employers of choice, thus attracting even more of the best talent. In fact, there’s growing evidence that it also directly affects their business performance. Hmm… there might be something to this “growing your own” idea. So who are those companies?

The Top Ten, voted by a jury of their peers, are:

GE
Johnson & Johnson
Dell, Inc.
IBM
Weyerhaeuser
Bank of America
PepsiCo
UBS
Procter & Gamble
Cisco systems

Our selection process, in four steps:

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1. We started with organizations in our 2004 Executive Development Trends Survey who rated themselves highest overall on 12 executive development “Best Practices.”

2. From that same survey, we added companies that survey respondents called “most innovative” in their executive development work.

3. We asked a panel of 13 experts in executive development (academics and consultants) to review the list and asked them to “add companies that are truly excellent in their executive development strategy, systems and programs.”

4. With a final list of 75 nominated companies (none submitted by Executive Development Associates, for the sake of objectivity), we then asked heads of executive/leadership development as well as chief learning officers (members of EDA’s community of practice networks) to vote on the “best-of-the-best.”

So what’s interesting about the list of 10 Companies?

More than two thirds of voters selected GE as outstanding — certainly reinforcing the company’s reputation for executive development. GE’s peers view this company as the one to watch. That’s nothing new.

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Some of these companies, such as GE and IBM, have long been known for excellence in executive development, while others such as UBS and Dell have established their reputations more recently by creating new, integrated executive development systems driven by their CEOs. Others, such as Weyerhaeuser, have quietly excelled for years, but tend to be overlooked because they’re in a pizzazz-less industry. All these companies are making significant investments in developing executive talent and stay the course in good economic times and bad. Other companies can learn lots by watching them.

In my next column, we’ll discuss these Top-Ten companies’ 12 best executive development practices.