It is a terrific idea for executive-development professionals to play a role in the strategic-planning process, the formation of high-level goals and execution plans. Why? Strategy formulation is the process of choosing the best path for an organization, based on customer needs, competitive realities, and internal capabilities. Those organizations that can integrate all three perspectives effectively into strategic planning will have more robust strategies and will perform better. The planning process also benefits an executive's personal development; the process stretches thinking, builds new skills, and provides an opportunity for top management to see up and coming talent in action.

While some organizations actively link executive development to strategic planning, it is more the exception than the rule. Why? There are three reasons. First, executive managers are not motivated to integrate executive development and strategic planning. They simply haven't seen or experienced good examples of how the integration can be done. Second, there often is limited ability to integrate the two processes. The integration involves art and science. The organization needs individuals who understand the development processes and who have expertise in management evaluation and development, balanced with long-term strategic planning. Third, there often are not great opportunities to do so. The planning process can happen relatively quickly, usually with a small group of insiders, not affording ample opportunity to flesh out the management development discussions.

Of course, a big problem with this disconnect is the creation of strategies that simply don't work because they are not grounded in reality. In other situations, the planning process gets too far ahead of the management-development process, and the talent pipeline is not delivering the quantity or quality that the organization needs.

How To Get Executive Development Professionals Involved

Executive-development professionals can adopt the following five guidelines to play a significant role in the strategic-planning process, which will result in better strategic plans and provide great developmental opportunities.

1. Acquaint yourself with the process.

Executive-development professionals often are left out of the planning loop. They have a difficult time knowing the answer to such key questions as: How is strategy at your organization created? Has the organization retained a strategy consulting firm to help craft a new set of organizational plans? Which executives are charged with driving new strategies?

Development professionals need to have the answer to these questions, because once a strategy is agreed to, the executive team is going to start thinking about execution, and that is where the development professional comes in.

2. Integrate business plans and executive development plans.

Executive development professionals need to ensure that business plans and people plans are in synch. To do so, they need to make the case for their involvement in the strategic-planning process in part based on the unique perspective that only they can provide. Other management insiders may see aspects of the organization that the development expert has not experienced, but the development professional is best suited to determine how much development activity is needed.

3. Inject objectivity and facts.

There needs to be a ruthless pursuit of having the right leaders in the right roles at the right time, which means casting aside politics, something that is sometimes easier for development professionals who typically are removed from the business units and its politics. They need to bring the facts to the table in the same way that other business areas do. As a development professional, they need to bring information on what level of senior talent the organization has today, and who is in the pipeline in the context of strategic plans and organizational needs. Consider using a succession database to track your management assets. Have the facts on what it takes (time, money, and so forth) to develop executives vs. hire outsiders.

4. Ensure development activities support corporate goals.

For executives, the last thing any organization wants to do is take them offline for a training session. Development needs to occur on the job, and help each executive achieve their specific business challenges. Action Learning is perfect for this. Action learning takes current business imperatives and challenges and uses them as a basis for the developmental experience. Coaching and reflection are embedded into the project life cycle to ensure that individual development occurs alongside "real work."

5. Involve the board of directors and top executives.

Development professionals should get their board of directors and top executives involved in executive development. Have them mentor and coach other high-potential managers and use them as presenters in development sessions. This is beneficial for the up and coming managers as they get great exposure to the senior team in the organization. You likely will notice that eventually development discussions that involve the most senior executives will inevitably include strategic issues; this is great. Similarly, you want strategic-planning discussions to include a bit about development. Ideally, you will achieve a blurring between the strategic-planning process and the executive-development process by having the top executives involved in key executive-development activities.

Executive development has a very different role than in the past, and this role will continue to evolve. By actively supporting the strategic-planning process, development professionals can manage executive development as a much more strategic fashion than just building competencies in the upper ranks, helping build better plans and executives at the same time.