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Developing Workplace Leaders

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Leadership Development at the Best Companies to Work For


A couple of weeks ago we convened our (US) Best Companies Executive Strategy Network (ESN) at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York City. The ESN is a group of leaders from the Best Companies to Work For who meet twice a year to discuss steps their organisations are taking to keep people and culture at the top of the priority list, swap best practices, and learn from other high-trust companies.

About 60 participants from SAS, American Express, CarMax, Baptist Health South Florida, Aeropostale, Teach for America, Vanguard, Alston & Bird, Atlantic Health, Darden Restaurants, Morningstar, Goldman Sachs and quite a few others joined to discuss and learn from one another about leadership development.

If you want to manage leadership development like a best company, here are a few questions to focus on:

  • Are your most senior leaders committed to developing leaders throughout the organisation? How much of their time is personally spent developing future leaders?
  • Are you thinking about leadership opportunities for people at all stages of their careers? What does leadership in your organisation mean for a new employee, vs. a tenured manager? How often are people at all stages of their careers receiving honest feedback and coaching to help them become better leaders in the future?
  • What does diversity look like for the leadership of your organisation? Is the organisation actively discussing ways to develop diverse future leaders, and discussing the benefits to the organisation’s success brought by diverse people and ideas?
  • How experiential are your leadership development opportunities? Is there an experiential aspect to team building activities? Do future leaders have the opportunity to work together on real organisational problems?

PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the “big four” accounting firms and a perennial on the 100 Best list (#48 this year), hosted the event, providing generous insight into the firm’s many strengths in developing leaders at all stages of their careers, as well as time with many of PwC’s top leaders.

We discussed concepts from The Trustworthy Leader,” our latest book on leadership from Amy Lyman, co-founder of Great Place to Work. Attendees (many of whose organisations were featured in the book) shared best practices related to leadership themes we see commonly at best companies: honor, inclusion, followership, sharing information, developing others and balancing uncertainty/opportunities.

We were also joined by partners from Action Learning Associates, who led a few experiential educational exercises that spurred some good discussion. In one, participants were blindfolded and had to describe and sort very uncommon shapes. Takeaways for the group: good leadership requires careful listening; leaders consciously or unconsciously model the behavior they later see show up in group culture; learning and course-correcting is at least as important as an initially good strategy.

A few PwC best people practices:

  • Preparing Generation Y for leadership: PwC hires the bulk of their new associates right out of college (the firm recruits at 174 colleges), thus a high percentage of their people are part of Generation Y. As one of the multitude of development opportunities offered to PwC staff, the firm has developed a retreat-based leadership development opportunity offered to their senior associates (those just advancing into the second stage of their career at PwC). These employees are offered the opportunity to spend several days in a resort-style setting in California, learning through in-depth and experiential exercises how to lead themselves; take accountability; and work as part of a high-performing team. Participants rave about the opportunity to learn how to succeed both at work and in their personal lives.
  • Focusing on leadership at all levels: A clear focus of PwC’s leadership strategy is to begin discussing leadership from Day 1 of an individual’s tenure with the organisation. Leadership at PwC is about self-awareness, modeling, listening, in addition to making tough decisions. Prepared through years of coaching and conversation about leadership, those entering formal leadership positions are fully prepared.
  • Enhancing the diversity of leadership: PwC has a clear focus on diversity, with a Chief Diversity Officer (among other formal diversity leaders) appointed to lead the company’s diversity strategy. Among this year’s priorities is an initiative to enhance the sponsorship (a step up from mentorship) of future leaders who are women or of ethnic diversity, to ensure that these managers and potential future partners are formally being developed and coached for future leadership roles.

And a couple of practices from other member companies:

  • SAS is focusing on helping leaders manage their energy – realizing that for long-term sustained leadership performance, physical health and fitness is critically important.
  • Maxine Clark, CEO at Build-a-Bear, exemplifies the concept of honor, frequently discussing the sense of honor she feels in leading an organisation full of great employees, who together with the customer have made the company great.
  • Baptist Health South Florida selects from its ranks a “working mother of the year” who serves as a role model for working mothers company-wide.
  • At CHG Healthcare individuals personally went through a SWOT analysis concerning their own strengths and weaknesses – and leaders set the example by sharing first.

All in all, a thought-provoking, stimulating chance to interact with and learn from some of the Best Companies to Work for!

Lindsay Nelson, MSOD is a Consultant for Great Place to Work®. Lindsay brings a systems-based philosophy of consulting, helping organisations to align workplace culture with strategy and business purpose to enable positive change.

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