With senior leaders retiring in great numbers, many organizations lack candidates with the skills to replace them. Yet few are getting adequate help in planning for succession.
“I saw a growing need because of the aging of the population,” says long-time leadership and business solutions expert Jocelyn Bérard, “People are just starting to retire en masse. Many organizations are saying we have a gap here and we’re concerned. Especially in government, the percentage of people who are going to retire in the next six years is frightening.”
New Focus on Succession
“We were helping leaders select new hires with training in interviewing skills, on-boarding, leadership development, and performance management,” says Bérard. “But the core of all this is succession management and at the time we were not sufficiently focused there. Our clients needed a process to identify their future leaders and then diagnose what they were missing, so they could get ready to work at the next level up.”
Predictors for Success
“We asked organizations, what are your needs around succession?” Bérard says. “How can we identify high potential leaders, figure out their development needs, and accelerate their development?”
Recently Bérard worked with the leadership of a major hospital to prepare for succession of the vice president. First, they developed an overall blueprint for the work then they identified the high potential leaders using six predictors for success.
The next stage was to diagnose the development needs of the directors who were in line to take on that role. “We needed to find out what they were missing in terms of competencies, knowledge, and experience. And what were some of the risks of their personality traits?” Bérard says.
Power of Unstructured Comments
“At that time we did a thorough assessment of the candidates, using the leadership competencies specific to that hospital.
“When I was preparing to debrief the candidates on their 360-degree feedback, the first thing I did was read the unstructured comments because they give so much of the color and the perceptions of each person.”
Bérard describes the participants as high-potential people who welcomed both feedback and coaching and were not surprised that they had issues to work on.
“The way I debrief is to start with their behaviors, as shown in the 360. Let’s see what people think about your leadership. They are sometimes floored by the feedback, in particular by the unstructured comments, which are wonderful. The 360 is nicely complemented by assessments of their personality, knowledge, and experience.”
Action Planning With Candidates
The next step for the hospital team was to decide together what it would take to bring the candidates up to speed. Will it be assignments, because they don’t have experience of operations for instance? Or because of certain personality traits, do they need to work more in certain kinds of situations? Or are there other competencies that we need to develop through coaching or training?
“Finally, we had to figure out how we make sure it all happens,” Bérard says. “With that in place, we had an effective succession project for the hospital.”