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TD Magazine Article

Leaders on Deck

Future readiness means leadership readiness.


Fri Jun 14 2024

Leaders on Deck

The BEST Awards recognize organizations that demonstrate enterprise-wide success as a result of employee talent development. The winners use learning as a strategic business tool to get results. View the entire list of 2024 BEST Award winners.

Future readiness means leadership readiness.


In its 2022 whitepaper Bridging the Skills Gap, the Association for Talent Development found that 54 percent of organizations cited insufficient bench strength in leadership ranks to be a key cause for skills gaps. Taking a proactive and strategic approach to addressing talent pipelines and succession planning are hallmarks of these BEST winners.

For global infrastructure consulting firm AECOM, C-suite changes in 2020 drove a new generation of leadership strategy and development that resulted in the organization's Leadership at all Levels initiative, a development suite designed to cultivate innovative thinkers, supportive managers, and effective leaders. Programs develop skills that specific career levels require. The programs sync to a defined set of leadership capabilities: client relationship builder, highly accountable leader, industry leader, and inclusive people developer.

Three initiatives focused on high potentials are nomination based and fully supported by the executive leadership team. The Elevate program, sponsored by the chief strategy officer and program management global business line chief executive, gives early-career and midcareer high-potential employees opportunities to expand their exposure to the business through simulations and coaching.

Business Builders Circle, sponsored by AECOM's global president, is a blended learning initiative that includes virtual and in-person experiences, speakers, coursework, and networking.

CEO Circle, sponsored and designed by the CEO, has specific learning objectives and outcomes as well as action learning projects during which participants "act like a CEO" with unfettered access to anyone in the company. The idea behind the program is to prepare participants for future executive-level roles.


The initiatives have yielded positive results in turnover and promotion rates, and company engagement has increased by 12 percent. The successful launch of the initial, above-listed programs has led to additional programs; now, eight job levels, representing 80 percent of employees, include leadership development opportunities.

Catalyst for change

India-based pharmaceutical company Lupin Limited faced an attrition problem that placed significant strain on its ability to deliver business outcomes. The TD team developed a succession planning process and learning initiatives that, together, ensure no position would be vacant due to lack of competent internal candidates.

The resulting Catalyst program is a 12-month integrated journey that includes simulation exercises, gap identification, individual development plans leaning heavily on experiential learning, and a gap analysis followed by focused learning sessions. Senior leaders—who are key stakeholders in the program's success—serve as program assessors. The TD team piloted Catalyst at two key manufacturing facilities, and the results were so strong that the global president for quality chose to scale the program globally.

"Building the leadership pipeline internally for staying ahead of the curve and sustaining our flawless execution is what we see as our future," says Yash Mahadik, president of global HR.

Lupin's TD team also implemented a structured and unbiased talent assessment program so that the organization has leader-ready talent available when needed. Working with business unit leaders and HR business partners, Lupin uses mentoring, coaching, job shadowing, and a series of assessments to create an identified talent pool. The TD team mapped core competencies for each business unit and created individual employee development plans to close skills and capability gaps.


Efforts are yielding positive results. Retention and engagement metrics have risen, and the company is able to fill its open leadership positions with qualified internal candidates.

High potential

M&T Bank is a large commercial financial institution in a highly regulated, competitive environment. The organization roots its TD efforts in its leadership competencies, which have specific behaviors and outcomes for five career phases: individual contributor, manager or team leader, multidisciplinary leader, whole business unit leader, and executive enterprise leader. The leadership competencies are foundational to all professional development efforts, providing a universal definition of talent guided by a shared language of leadership.

"Developing high-potential talent internally and connecting them with the communities we serve makes us a stronger institution and better equips us to serve the neighborhoods in which we live and work," says Chairman and CEO René Jones.

M&T Learning created a cohort-based manager accelerator program that systematically enrolls internal staff who have received a promotion to their first people leader role as well as external hires taking on a people leader role. The program's curriculum progresses from the basics of people management to creating and maintaining a team culture aligned with that of the organization. The design and delivery also align with M&T's values and leadership competencies. For the past four years, the program has ensured the next generation of leaders have the right skills to continue their career progression and serve as bench strength for existing senior leaders.

The company calibrates, assesses, and develops talent for succession planning. Managers, mentors, and coaches offer development to high-potential leaders. The bank also provides those leaders with an internal leadership development program. For example, TD designed and delivered a senior leader development program with Cornell University to accelerate leaders to the highest levels of the organization.

TD assesses all senior leaders whom management has identified as a potential successor for key roles using a combination of Hogan, interview-based leadership competency evaluations and 360-degree evaluations. In addition, the company pairs high-potential leaders with external career coaches to offer high-touch, individualized professional development support as they move toward higher profile roles, mitigating any potential talent breakdown between current and future leaders.

Great minds

Hilti, a multinational company that supplies products and services to its construction and manufacturing customers, promotes 75 percent of its leadership from within the organization. Often, the team members who earn promotions have extensive company knowledge but lack leadership experience and training.

To address that challenge, the TD team instituted a mandatory series of classes to help new leaders gain leadership acumen throughout their first year in a leadership position. The courses are unique to an individual's promoted role and involve hands-on activities, peer-to-peer exchanges, and simulated experiences. The TD team connects with new leaders frequently to ensure their new knowledge remains top of mind throughout the course.

Hilti also has several programs that support succession planning, key to keeping its 75 percent promotion-from-within rate. One program, Momentum, stands out because, in addition to courses and experiences, candidates work collectively on a leader-level problem that the organization needs to solve. All candidates have a senior-level mentor to support them through their journeys.

Meet a need

Customized, consultative leader development has made a significant impact on Huntington Bank's ability to scale up the growing company. Anticipating organizational change, the TD team proactively developed customized learning content for virtually every segment of the business, meeting their unique mix of leadership needs in doing so.

A central part of the bank's overarching talent strategy is delivering specific learning experiences at each leadership level that support rapid organizational growth. Through analysis and understanding of industry and organizational shifting priorities, the TD team sourced and implemented multifaceted learning experiences in change management, trust and rapport, and purpose-driven hiring and leadership practices.

Due to overwhelming demand, the team created open enrollment offerings focused on skills journeys and a self-service development hub with resources for leaders to easily access the top requested topics and then cascade the concepts to their teams, amplifying the impact.

Word of mouth has been a powerful motivator. From 2022 to 2023, Huntington Bank saw a 200 percent increase in requests for consultative, customized leader development because, as leaders heard about the success in their peer organizations, they requested similar experiences of their own. More than 3,000 leaders and staff have benefited from the customized sessions and more than 1,100 others have taken part in the skills journeys accessible through the self-service development hub.

Go for gold

2022 was dubbed the "Year of the Leader" at Limbach, a commercial HVAC subcontractor based in the US. The industry in which the company operates has resignation rates twice as high as other industries, and 23 percent of the workforce is retirement eligible in the next five years.

The CEO and other members of the executive team actively participate in Limbach's leader development initiatives, which are a critical component in the company's overarching strategy of transitioning to an owner-direct business. Getting leadership right is critical to ensuring the company's future.

With a goal of promoting 70 percent of mid- and senior-level employees in the next three years, the TD team created three cohort-based leadership development programs: The first develops emerging leaders in critical intrapersonal leadership skills; the second builds on that foundation with an emphasis on team leadership and its associated skills; and the third targets current and future executive-level talent, building key servant leadership traits at all levels of the organization to ensure a strong pipeline. The learning team uses a variety of supplemental tools to support training efforts, including an internally produced podcast_, Limbach Unlocked._

Succession plans exist for all C-level and branch leadership teams, and management annually re-evaluates and updates the plans (unless change necessitates a sooner evaluation). The succession planning process involves environmental scans related to internal dynamics and industry trends, determining key positions and vacancy timelines, identifying interested employees and assessing capabilities, and developing succession development plans for qualified candidates to close skills and capability gaps to ensure future leaders are equipped for promotion.

"When you combine dedicated people with our award-winning training curriculum and a long-standing history of evolution that is grounded in a culture centered on solving our customers' toughest challenges, there's no limit to what can be accomplished," says CEO Mike McCann.

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