New standards for talent succession

This article presents reimagined standards for succession processes and tools that guide how the organization will attract, develop and retain top talent.

“Who should lead? And when?” Two critical questions that business leaders and HR stakeholders are still seeking answers to, but the fact is that even before the global disruption inflicted by COVID-19, organizations struggled to answer that question.

The rapid transformation of the global economy during the pandemic has heightened the importance of succession planning in organizations. In addition to asking who should lead, we are now tasked with re-examining all aspects of our current leadership development and succession strategies and determining whether those strategies can succeed in this new world of work.

The pandemic has revealed globally that succession management needs a reimagined perspective with new scientific and practical standards to guide the critical investments an organization will or will not make in people. According to HCI research, only 39% of organizations report having a strong leadership pipeline—a pool of ready-made or high-potential leaders who could be promoted to a new leadership position. DDI’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast found that “only 47% of critical roles can be filled by current leaders”. It’s clear that organizations don’t have the leaders they need today or in the future.

From competence to business context

Having ready and willing leaders capable of achieving the organization’s business goals is a competitive advantage and critical to the company’s continued success. In my research to identify the processes and practices needed to have a diverse group of ready leaders at all levels who can move your organization forward now, in the near future, and in the long term, results show that two in five organizations believe that their leaders lack the capacity to successfully manage their business goals over the next 12-18 months. When asked why, most organizations cited two reasons: inadequate succession management and ineffective processes for selecting and developing high potentials.

In today’s disruptive business climate, companies need to rethink their business models and formulate competitive “market entry strategies”. It requires leaders to act and react faster than ever, anticipating and shaping new futures. Therefore, leaders must be ready to take on a much wider range of challenges and learn new skills faster than ever before.

Organizations can no longer select potential successors based on their “suitability” for the current position. Instead, they need to think about “fitness,” which is choosing and developing successors with the resilience and adaptability to lead in a range of business-critical contexts.

The future will be no different unless organizations adapt fitness-focused talent strategies. This includes selecting and promoting leaders through the pipeline through a reimagined succession process that focuses more on “readiness by business content” as well as “readiness by competency”.

The figure above shows five critical business contexts and six business drivers that should be considered when selecting and developing potential successors.

From the nine-box grid to scaling up preparation

Despite the analytical reading that the nine-box grid shows in terms of classifying potential talent according to the two dimensions (performance and potential), business decisions are made based on the extent to which potential successors possess performance and potential. high, moderate or low.

Crucially, the nine-box grid does not define what high, moderate, or low means, and the minimum and maximum score must be held in terms of performance and potentiality so that organizations can make decisions about talent investments. This tool is built on a systematic and data-driven approach. A reinvented “Successor Readiness Scale” with four levels of readiness is shown below.

From a focus on roles to a focus on talent pools

Most succession management processes focus on listing potential successors for individual positions. The pandemic has revealed that companies are suffering from focusing on investing in separate positions and separate development initiatives to prepare talent for specific jobs; and the result was the inability to fill more than 50 percent of the critical roles.

While some jobs will always require specialists, there is an increasing focus on identifying job clusters and developing potential successors for a variety of roles. Jobs can be grouped by role, function or level so that capabilities, business drivers and skills can be developed. The objective is to develop pools of talent, each adaptable and capable of fulfilling various roles. Since succession planning is about developing longer-term successors as well as short-term replacements, each pool will be considerably broader than the range of positions it covers.

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