It seems that the economic news gets worse each day. Many organizations are faced with constant challenges ranging from job cuts to budget cuts to major changes in structure and delivery. Training and talent management can fall to the bottom of the list in these times, so maintaining the leadership pool you’ve built is extremely difficult. What can talent managers and training organizations do to challenge leaders, keep them motivated and focused, and to minimize the fear of losing their jobs?

One of the best things you can do to maintain the leadership pool in tough times is to use them above and beyond their current responsibilities. Staffs may be smaller, but the organization’s problems and issues will continue. To that end, keep a list of organizational issues that are “bubbled up” and turn them into special projects or assignments for the leadership pool. Leaders, especially those who have never been through an economic crisis, should be aware that their responsibilities may grow even if their positions and salaries do not. If the leadership pool is challenged with solving problems, especially with low or no budget, their training will continue. The bargaining chip for this type of project is that the organization benefits from high professional and high potential leaders working together to solve problems.

On simpler terms, talent managers should keep the leadership pool on a schedule of meetings or gatherings. Some organizations tend to have the leadership pool together for special training or annual meetings, and these events are more likely to happen when budgets are flush and the economy is booming. Get the talent pool together on a regular basis to discuss their issues and solve problems. Even if the pool is geographically diverse, get them on tele- or videoconferences to keep them communicating. If you want to formalize the process, create an action log or action plan from which your special projects can grow. You can also use the meetings for brainstorming; as money shrinks, creativity grows, so use your leaders to solve issues creatively. Budget cuts are no reason to cut meetings between the organization’s current and future leaders.

Some organizations try to outsource leadership development and training, as well. While times are good this is a great thing because leaders get an outside view on their organization and their skills. But if there is no budget for outsourcing, there is still no excuse for creating training. Experiment with “home grown” training programs, both for and by the leadership pool. Employ the organization’s training department to create leadership seminars or courses that take up less time than an outsourced piece. You can even consider having members of the leadership pool deliver “brown bag” lunch sessions in their individual areas of expertise. In addition, don’t forget about leadership development at lower levels. Remember that the lower levels of the organization often suffer the most from training budget cuts, so why not have the leadership pool conduct leadership programs or even send out informative leadership emails to the rest of the organization? With this type of training in place, you’re saving the training budget but continuing to develop leaders at all levels.

Another way to challenge the leadership pool is to create a benchmarking program specifically geared toward the economic downturn. Have your leaders find out what other organizations both inside and outside your industry are doing to weather the economic storm. In leadership meetings, discuss how those benchmarks can be applied within your organization. Even if the information cannot be deployed, it is still worth discussion.

Finally, look for free events through Chief Learning Officer, Talent Management Magazine, and other trade publications. Online seminars and events, while low in cost, are sometimes high in learning. Use these seminars as opportunities for the leadership pool to come together for discussion and implementation of new ideas and techniques.

The creativity, usefulness, and challenge of these ideas will retain your leadership pool, keep them thinking, and reemphasize their importance to the organization. The organization will win with new ideas and problems solved, and the leaders in the pool will be able to focus anxiety and fear on progress and learning.

Copyright 2011 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.

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