How Do You Help Executives Thrive?

As a good HR leader, you no doubt spend a lot of time creating opportunities for everyday employees to gain the skills and experience they need to continue their professional growth.

But what are you doing to help those at the highest levels reach their career goals?

The answer, according to many senior executives taking part in a recent Egon Zehnder survey, seems to be “not quite enough.”

As part of its Leadership Identity—What Makes You Thrive study, global executive search and talent advisory firm Egon Zehnder recently polled 1,275 senior execs from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

When asked if they felt their organization helps them unlock their professional potential, 40 percent replied in the affirmative, while 31 percent said “no” and another 27 percent reported feeling neutral. In addition, 72 percent said they would welcome more help from their company to “pinpoint and pursue [their] personal motivations and goals.”

These figures “suggest that a great many executives see an opportunity for a closer alignment of their job and their essential identity and priorities,” according to an Egon Zehnder summary of the findings. “Some might even feel a clear disconnect.”

Egon Zehnder study authors Andrew Roscoe and Wolfhart Pentz also note observing what they call “an interesting paradox,” saying that few executives who feel that disconnect take steps to address the situation by working to articulate their personal goals in a way that aligns with company objectives or “by fully exploring the potential of their current role,” for example.

“Instead,” the summary adds, “they often feel that their only option is to search for an opportunity elsewhere.”

It doesn’t have to come to that, of course, and Roscoe and Pentz offer ways in which employers and executives can close this communication gap.

For instance, the authors urge executives to do their part by taking more ownership of their own growth and trajectory, and being more forthright in discussing their goals with the organization.

Executives could also stand to improve their awareness and understanding of their own personal priorities—and how they intersect with those of the company, say the authors.

Organizations, meanwhile, must find additional means of developing executives who decline traditional promotion tracks and establish metrics of success that look beyond the “traditional quantitative measures,” the authors note, adding that companies’ rationale behind proposed moves could be better communicated in some cases.

“Too often, professional development is a monologue given by the organization to the executive. It needs to evolve to a true dialogue,” says Roscoe, who leads Egon Zehnder’s executive assessment and development practice.

“But that isn’t only the responsibility of the organization. Executives need to take ownership of their own growth trajectory and be active partners in that dialogue, rather than assume the only options are ‘take it or leave it.’ ”