When C-Suite leaders join an organization, they spend their first 100 days focused on integration, understanding the business, and building relationship with colleagues and the talent within their area of accountability.  Often, they see a pattern of recent change in key senior leadership roles or identify the need for shaping the talent of their direct team.  But the pipeline within the organization rarely meets expectations.  No doubt about it, establishing a strong, effective, diverse, and scalable leadership pipeline is difficult. According to Bersin & Associates, the majority (52%) of HR executives indicate use of “traditional succession planning” versus 12% who indicate their succession efforts are “integrated” with other systems. 

This is why companies tend to see an uptick in external hiring, often times seeing the C-Suite leader bringing in people that they, or others they trust, have worked with in past roles.

When there is a need to shape the talent pipeline in an organization, start by re-engineering the talent management practices.  Often organizations start by immediately turning to assess their approach to succession planning. Organizations that take succession to the next level are likely to achieve a crucial competitive differentiator and will be more prepared for turbulence in a rapidly changing economy.

Our current research has shown that more than half of companies surveyed said their companies implement succession management processes at only the most senior executive levels.  Only 14%of these leaders said their companies’ succession management programs are integrated with talent management programs, such as performance management and employee development.  Finally, less than 42%of respondents said their companies include mid-level managers and skilled professionals in their pipeline planning process.

Changing Mindset

The majority of organizations’ succession management strategies have long been “fairly traditional.” In most cases, high-potential employees (based on strong performance in their current role) were classified as being ready for leadership positions now, ready in one-to-two-years, ready in three-to-five years, and so on. While the intent has been to groom these individuals accordingly, specific plans are rarely captured, tracked, or intentionally aligned against what is most needed in the role for the future.  Often this talent, if promoted, struggles moving into the larger role because they tend to have depth of experience versus breadth of experience needed to be a successful leader.  The reality is that people do not develop in annual increments as smoothly as implied by a traditional development approach.  By the time a high potential talent is ready, and a position becomes available, the role has most likely significantly changed or evolved, and other talent has been identified as a better fit or the need for an external candidate is identified.

It is Time to Shift to Pipeline Planning

Pipeline planning represents a significant change from the more traditional approach most organizations take.  The succession plan should be the outcome, or deliverable, of a dynamic pipeline planning and talent review process.  This includes incorporating core elements such as:

·   Definition of key roles both at the top and in the middle of the organization

·   Development of Success Profiles for these key roles

·   Identification of specific capabilities that differentiate each role being planned with a focus on future, not current, needs

·   Incorporate candid and transparent discussion into talent reviews, and debate about emerging talent at all levels in the organization

·   Development of planning elements that support the career growth and succession process

Stop placing a focus on position and avoid the limiting labels such as “ready now”, “ready in one-to-two years” or “ready in three-to-five years” or “emergency replacement.”  Simplify your approach to those who are ready to step into the role today and those needing more development and experience.  The key is to make certain you put action plans in place to actually develop your successors.

Focus Pipeline Planning on Both the Top and The Middle

In a recent conversation with the CHRO of a global organization that is continuing to grow, he stated that they traditionally have filled the majority of their executive positions with internal promotions.  It has led to high engagement, retention of talent and sustained business results, as internal leaders integrate faster and more effectively.  He stated that this has led to a significant depletion of their pipeline because the focus has been on replacing the senior roles, not replenishing their pipeline, including replacing the talent in middle level leadership roles of the company.

Every aspect of a leader’s world is less stable than a generation ago and constantly changing. People are working in new ways with more diversity and different expectations.  Markets in which we operate are facing unprecedented disruption and technology continue to shift the way we work.  Organizations need to be intentional with how they identify and define the capabilities and expectations of leaders in their organization.  Tolerance for ambiguity, change resiliency, the ability to coach others, systems thinking, and learning agility are key attributes that leaders must master.  Build a pipeline of diverse talent to sustain business outcomes and leadership consistency will be a big differentiator in great companies and average companies. Contact us to learn more about how to feed your talent pipeline now to ensure succession planning success.