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Succession planning made easy?

Succession planning made easy?

Spending time understanding the real behaviours that drive your business and helping leaders to develop other leaders, are key to ensuring long term competitiveness. Jamil Rashid, founder and director of JARA, explains why.

Any talent management strategy must stem from a detailed understanding of the shortfalls of the existing talent within an organisation and how this is impacting on the needs of the organisation now, and how it will do so into the future. Many organisations develop talent but lose sight of why. Also typical is a failure to measure the success of these initiatives, so there is invariably a ‘soft’ link to results.

Talent management must be also be about developing the ‘right’ talent – talent that is really capable of bridging weaknesses and taking the organisation forward. Failure to recognise this will merely result in filling positions that do not improve performance. It is simply not good enough to send all your best managers on a leadership course, however good its credentials might be.  It is even worse to do so without having identified the financial and other measures against which you will assess the value of that training, but in reality, it rarely happens.

So, before you can understand what capabilities you want to develop in new and future talent, you must first understand the problem you are trying to fix.  And to do this, you have to get to the heart of the organisation’s strategy, its vision. It is vital to the success of any organisation that every action can be traced back to its strategic objectives.  For the same reason, a strategy for developing leadership talent must fulfil the organisation’s current and future needs for organisational effectiveness and efficiency and, crucially, be capable of measuring its impact on the short and long term financials.

So, what are the steps? First, identify the organisation’s strategic objectives and then the lower level activities that are required to achieve these.  This is an involved process and needs to be carried out from the top of the organisation and gradually repeated for each layer and function until clear links are achieved. Second, define how the success of these activities is measured, both in financial and non-financial terms, and assess current performance against these measures.  A future talent management strategy must be related to the current and future shortfalls of each strategic objective.

Identifying the management behaviours and capabilities that drive these, is not as easy an exercise as it might seem, because the causes of poor performance need to be sufficiently specific that management behaviours can be attached to them. For example, a business has new product development (NPD) at the core of its strategy but is consistently over-running on project timescales.  A failure to measure and review effectively across the projects is identified as a reason for poor performance; furthermore, those projects for which better measurement and reviews are conducted do perform better overall against planning schedules. Therefore, focusing on the management capability around reviewing and monitoring, rather than technical NPD skills, is the improvement that the business requires and therefore the talent that needs to be developed.

Only now, having worked through this rigorous process, is an organisation equipped to identify the detailed characteristics of the talent that it needs – to deliver organisational effectiveness and efficiency – and whether, and to what extent, this exists within the current talent pool, or needs to be sourced externally to fill any shortfall.

Clearly, widening the pool of leadership talent is critical, but it needs to be more far-reaching: new leaders must be developed in such a way that they are in turn able to develop other people around them.  Leaders must be capable of developing future leaders, their successors.  In this way, the development of new talent (rather than periodic reviews, although these are still important) becomes the driver of continuous management and succession planning.

Whether they themselves have announced it formally or not, this is why companies like GE and Toyota have been so successful: they have created a consistent set of leadership skills that every aspiring leader must have,   driven by an over-arching management philosophy – notably the renowned “GE Way”.

But this is no short-term fix.  It may take three years to instill in an individual the behaviours and capabilities that he or she needs to deliver consistently against that management approach.  It will probably take at least another two years before that individual is ready, following substantial and sustained mentoring support, to instill those same behaviours and capabilities in the teams that they manage.

Talent management must be about creating leaders who not only possess a prescribed set of skills and behaviours but also the ability to develop them in others.  This requires both a long term investment and a recognition that succession planning is not about matching people against job specs, it is about realizing the vision of the organization at every level.

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