Agile succession planning

To build your talent pipeline, create opportunities that benefit the individual and your organisation, says Dominique Jones.

An ageing workforce and a shortage in skilled staff are driving the need for investment in succession planning. Both issues are projected to become more pressing. 
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According to a recent report, 83 per cent of companies are seriously worried about their leadership pipelines and only 8 per cent have strong programmes to build leadership skills in their millennial populations. Retention and

engagement remain major issues around the world, throwing the spotlight on the HR strategy to maintain an agile workforce.
A robust talent management strategy starts with business strategy. HR and L&D professionals need to be able to answer the following questions: Can we achieve our business goals with our current staff and capabilities?
Are we retaining top talent? Is our existing talent base ready to become our next generation of leaders? And is our investment in learning and development helping us achieve strategic business goals? If organisations do not invest in employee and leadership development, there will be no leadership pipeline. Gaps in leadership roles impact everything from employee engagement to business momentum and success. Effective succession planning requires a culture that is nimble and responsive and that identifies and nurtures its top performers. There are so many factors that will impact what and who an organisation needs in order to remain competitive,
including shifting organisational priorities, changing national economies, a changing competitive landscape and evolving technology.
To ensure successful execution, succession planning requires the development and fostering of a learning-focused culture that is responsive to all these changes and that identifies and nurtures top performers. To achieve that, it is vital to align the organisation’s talent strategy to its business strategy and to get executive buy-in to create a learning-focused culture that will support succession planning. 
Performance management
Performance management should be the lynchpin of a talent strategy. An effective ongoing performance management process focuses on aligning the workforce to strategic objectives, improving employee performance, supporting employee development and driving better business results all year round – not just once a year.
This not only supports managers in helping their employees to develop and improve, it also engages and empowers employees and helps them feel like they are an integral part of the organisation’s success.
HR and L&D departments should also be looking at their organisation’s performance management processes to ensure they aren’t simply focused on rating employee performance just once a year in an annual performance appraisal.
Instead these processes should be managed all year round to provide executives with the performance data and insight needed to support smart decision-making about their workforce and meet business objectives. Further, research shows that 81 per cent of organisations with very frequent executive engagement with performance management have strong business results.
Performance management software can go a long way to help organisations automate and streamline the activities used to manage employee performance year round. Cloud-based performance management software works well for globally dispersed organisations, giving employees and managers access to all the information they need wherever they are.
Identifying talent Equally important, however, is a need for effective succession planning via talent pool or acceleration pool development to feed into a future leadership pipeline. 79 per cent of executives believe lack of frontline leadership capability negatively impacts company performance.
If organisations want to be prepared for the future, they must be able to link long-term business strategy to the talent landscape and the components of job roles critical to the organisation’s success — and that includes leadership roles. They then need to bring this information together to create a plan to fill future positions.
This includes support for leadership talent pools and emerging leadership programmes, 360-leadership assessments to base leadership development plans on, and regular ‘stay interviews’ with high performers to uncover what motivates them. There are a number of ways to go about identifying talented people who could become future leaders, starting by creating the talent pools needed for succession planning.
The talent pools you create will vary depending on the organisation and its strategic goals. You may want to develop a more generic leadership talent pool or create job-specific talent pools based on key areas where your organisation needs bench strength. Then it is necessary to identify the required competencies for each talent pool.
The best practice approach is to prepare for succession in all key areas of the organisation and use every means to find talent that may already be in the organisation before looking outside. Start by asking managers to identify their high potential employees and consider inviting employees to ‘selfidentify’ as potential talent pool members. This is about potential rather than current performance such as sales figures achieved.
According to CEB, high potential employees have three key characteristics in common: aspiration, ability, and engagement. High potential employees like what they do, want to do more, and show potential to lead larger numbers of people and perform increasingly complex tasks.
Formulate a strategy Many HR and L&D managers struggle to formulate a talent management strategy that maps out goals and priorities for the year and ties these to their organisation’s strategic plan and goals.
Only 46 per cent of organisations responding to the ‘Strategic talent management survey 2014’5 said that they had a talent management strategy in place. Yet a strategic planning process typically comprises a number of steps that may be adopted by most organisations.
The first step is to assess strategic high-level goals, taking into account any upcoming changes or new initiatives for the organisation. Then, identify and consider the key drivers and internal and external challenges, such as regulatory change or a changing job market that could impact the organisation’s ability to achieve these goals.
The next step is to conduct a gap analysis, comparing where your organisation is today with where it wants to be and identifying any gaps that it needs to address in order to achieve its goals. Based on the goals, challenges and gaps you identified, set goals for the coming year for HR and L&D to support the organisation in achieving its objectives. Don’t forget to make them SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and relevant, time-bound) and link them to corporate goals.
At this stage it is a good idea to create an inventory of current HR talent management processes to determine if there needs to be any changes to existing processes or if new processes are required to support your goals. Where gaps or change requirements are identified, now is the time to put plans in place to address them.
Relevant data Data is at the heart of any analysis supporting talent management. Relevant metrics enable management to report progress and success, or take corrective action as needed. Measure what matters and take a fresh look at collecting performance data and other data that delivers the insight needed in order to demonstrate how your workforce is helping the organisation achieve its strategy.
Consider collecting data including high performer average engagement scores, high to low performance ratios, critical competency scores, percentage of employees tracking strategic goals and percentage of goals met and exceeded. Too often managers and leadership see this whole process as unnecessary paperwork.
HR needs to re-brand performance management as critical to achieving the organisation’s business strategies — and then demonstrate the link between the two — to change this mind set. An effective approach to determine employee potential for leadership is to use the talent bench review table developed by Anderson Leadership Group.
The tool enables HR to take a closer look at who’s on your bench, including who should be developed, who should be groomed for leadership and, in some cases, who should be moved to another role.
Assessments are grounded in actual examples of behaviours and outcomes, demonstrated consistently over time.
The more well-defined the performance criteria, the better the data and the more accurate the review will be. Gathering data is only the start; using it effectively is key. Best practice HR analytics involves not only gathering robust, reliable and credible data, but also analysing that data for trends, changes and interrelationships.
Researching the root cause or contributors to data will result in recommendations for actions. With SMART goals and priorities in place, it’s important to assess and measure their effectiveness, and communicate the results to the organisation. ​
Top tips to ensure your talent management practices meet today’s workforce challenges
  1.  Align individual and organisational goals. Keep everyone’s eyes on the prize. If progress is not being made, leaders need to take corrective action immediately.
  2. Make performance management an ongoing process, not an annual review.
  3. Identify and reward high performing employees. These are the employees you can’t afford to lose; make sure you’re acknowledging their performance and potential in some way even if there is no budget for pay rises.
  4. Replace dated static succession planning templates with a succession planning process underpinned by a learning-focused culture that is nimble and responsive to changes.

Engage and retain

It is easier to develop the workforce you already have than to continually rebuild it. Not only does this help to preserve institutional knowledge, it also increases employee engagement and productivity as employees see the organisation investing in their career development.

While your organisation may have a defined process for identifying high potential employees, what may be missing is a defined process for keeping them engaged so you can retain them. Organisations with the most mature, integrated talent management processes achieve 40 per cent lower turnover among high performers.

If you want to retain your high potential employees, you need to give them opportunities to exploit their potential and advance in their careers. Managers must understand the importance of maintaining communication with these employees to identify and address the risks of losing them.

Scott Engler of CEB suggests offering high potential employees a ‘talent deal’ that provides them with a variety of special opportunities, benefits and commitments, while defining commitments or responsibilities expected from them in return. It is important to align high potential employee and senior leader expectations for development programmes and career paths.

It may be a good idea to standardise career paths, so that high potential employees understand they are making progress and, when a key position opens up, there will be an established talent pool with qualified internal candidates with the right skills and competencies to step into the role.​

Reap the rewards According to Deloitte’s ‘2015 Global Human Capital Trends’ report, “HR organisations and HR skills are not keeping up with business needs.” While HR has struggled for the past 20 years to contribute strategically to the organisation, the contribution of the talent programmes it runs to developing the leadership needed for organisational success is critical.

The demand for leadership skills is higher than ever and yet the supply is not there. The time to act is now. Many organisations could make more effective use of their HR technology investments to support their talent programmes and succession planning practices.

In the face of increasing competition for the best talent, strategic talent management and succession planning is key. HR and L&D professionals who put in place effective talent management programmes that underpin an agile enterprise will reap dividends for their organisation and HR’s role within it. ​





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