In the good old days, rising business leaders that landed at one of the “academy companies” could count on those companies giving them foundational training and development that would serve them through their careers. Today, those companies are in decline, and rising business leaders have to take charge of their own futures, own training and development and own onboarding.

In 2007 Fortune’s Geoff Colvin described “How Top Companies Breed Stars.” These academy companies invested in developing leaders, identifying the most promising leaders early on and giving them developmental assignments along the way.

At Procter & Gamble in the 1980s, the training and development offering looked like a university course catalogue. My first couple of years there felt like on-going, continuous training. Then, later on, part of my evaluation as a manager was linked to how well I developed those following behind me.

Contrast this with Coca-Cola where our training and development offering could be summed up in two words: “executive recruiters.” We didn’t pretend to be a training company. We simply hired fully formed managers away from other companies.

Both approaches worked. Indeed one of the tenets of future capability planning is figuring out what capabilities you’re going to need in the future and then making choices around which people:

• are in place with the right talent and can be developed by investing in knowledge and skills,

• should be hired in soon and then developed for the future, or

• should be hired “just-in-time,” fully-formed when needed.

This assumes there will be enough companies investing in developing leaders like the Procter & Gamble of old to satisfy the needs of talent takers like Coca-Cola. Unfortunately, we’re seeing a stark decline in Academy Companies. Of the top five of Fortune’s Top Companies For Leaders in 2007,

• General Electric just ousted CEO Jeff Immelt for continued under-performance

• Procter & Gamble activist investor Nelson Pelz wants to change the way it does business

• Nokia got crushed by Apple and Android

• Unilever is engaged in massive cost-cutting efforts

• Capital One continues to deal with “continued deterioration in the company’s asset quality.”

Don’t expect companies like these to continue to invest in training and development. Instead, expect them to invest in innovation to drive their top lines or cost cutting to manage their bottom lines. They will either hire stars, buy companies they can leverage, or weed out every non-value-adding asset they can.

Implications for you

Rising leaders must do their own future capability planning, manage their own development and manage their own onboarding. The best organizations will support and supplement those efforts..

Future Capability Planning

Rising leaders should identify roles they want to be able to do in the future, assess their current talent, knowledge and skills and then leverage courses, training programs and other ways to acquire knowledge and projects, roles and organizations that will enable them to practice new skills.

Organizations should screen for people with the motivation to do just this – another reason why motivation is the most important of the only three interview questions. A good question is “Tell me how you have been developing yourself for roles you want to have in the future.”


As leaders move through different organizations, they should not rely on those organizations to develop them. Instead, they should map out and implement their own development plan, with or without the organization’s help.

Organizations should support these efforts, supplementing them where they can with their own or outsourced and adapted programs, particularly for first-time leaders.


As organizations shift from developing their own to hiring experienced leaders from the outside, executive onboarding becomes ever more important in accelerating success and reducing leaders’ risk in new jobs. The basics apply in any situation as leaders converge into organizations and teams and then evolve them from within:

• Get a head start before the start.

• Manage the message.

• Set direction and build the team.

• Sustain momentum and deliver results.

Similar to development, leaders should not rely on organizations to onboard them. Instead, they should take charge of their own onboarding, proactively guiding the organization to provide the tools, resources, insight and support they need.

It’s a new world, requiring new approaches.