Oct 10, 2011 • By

Building great leaders

Successful companies know you can’t rely on serendipity to develop the kind of people you want to lead your business in three, five or even 20 years from now.

Companies like General Mills have a decades-long commitment to formal leadership development programs designed to help employees achieve their fullest potential. This focus on leadership development is especially important at General Mills, as many employees stay with the company for their entire careers.

General Mills’ leadership development program was recently named the best in America by Leadership Excellence magazine.

I spoke with Kevin Wilde, vice president and chief learning officer of General Mills, for some fresh insights on the business importance and value on building great leaders.

What does this award mean to you and your team?

Wilde: It’s gratifying to receive external recognition, reflecting the internal support and commitment General Mills has for leadership development excellence. It’s always great for General Mills to be recognized among the best, and this is the first time we’ve been ranked in first place, so it’s a special honor.

What is unique about General Mills’ approach to leadership development?

Wilde: Our “brand” for leadership development is notable in a number of ways. First, we not only see hiring for potential as part of our employment proposition, but also our business strategy as we make that potential come to life.

Second, we are consistent with our talent investments. Year after year, our senior leadership team dedicates company resources and their personal time to grow talent at all levels. For example, our most recent “Building Great Leaders” program involved all the top 500 leaders from around the world and leveraged our senior leaders as teaching faculty. Further, the General Mills Institute has been around for almost 20 years and is dedicated to help leaders at all levels succeed.

Third, we aren’t in the business of developing leaders for other companies, so we work hard to retain our leaders. And the results show – 85 percent of company officers were promoted from within the company, and an impressive 50 percent of all officers started their careers as entry-level professionals here.

Why does it matter for companies to focus on leadership development programs, even in challenging economic times?

Wilde: In my book, there is no better investment to make – in good times or bad – than in developing, supporting and inspiring great leaders. I also think that it isn’t about how much money you spend or if you are following the latest fashion in the leadership field.

We spend smart and find low cost, high impact ways of growing talent such as active mentoring and community service. In the end, it’s about consistency that matters most.

In your view, what is General Mills’ biggest leadership challenge?

Wilde: Staying at the right place on the innovation curve is a challenge. What has worked well before should be respected, yet we’re always looking to renovate our practices to meet today’s needs and global opportunities.

I am most excited about the new ways of leadership development and learning – such as our new internal social learning site named Connect – and also by the talent and expertise we have in our worldwide leaders. We need to accelerate the best thinking from all parts of the company, around the world.