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Article No.: 16-4, April 1, 2016 

Article Title: Sustaining a Culture of Learning Agility through Succession Planning

Author: Linda Gravett, Ph.D., SHRM-SCP, CEQC

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Organizations today, more than ever, need high potential employees with openness, willingness to learn and experience new things, and flexibility to execute complex strategies.  They need people with a high tolerance for ambiguity, good interaction skills, vision, innovation and critical thinking skills.
Critical thinkers ask tough questions and challenge the thinking of others.  You know the type…these are the people we love to hate.  We affectionately call them “devil’s advocates.”  However, when used appropriately, this questioning technique can really force someone to think.  Anticipating a devil’s advocate in every crowd also helps one to better prepare for presentations, for example.
Think about it…most start with the tactical “how” and the “what” versus the strategic component such as the “why.”  This is the compelling part, so why not start here?
That being said, what are the implications for practice in order to sustain Learning Agility?
Implications for Practice:  Succession Planning
What are the key implications for HR practitioners?  The first of those is the need for a focus on Talent Management, defined as assessing and selecting talent.  The war for talent continues to increase, especially since the U.S. is coming out of a recession and people are more confident in looking for a different job.  Having a high number of candidates isn’t necessarily positive, though.  Having a high number of highly qualified candidates is the goal. 
A recommended succession planning framework is described below.
Align Succession Plan with Strategic Objectives
The foundation of the succession planning process is alignment of the succession plan with the organization’s Mission, Vision, and strategic objectives.  The first step is therefore a review of the Strategic Business Plan for analysis of the organization’s business direction, opportunities, and challenges.  Succession planning will be designed to support the long-term needs of the organization.

Leadership Development
An integral component of succession planning is leadership development.  In order to ensure organizational agility, leaders with critical competencies must be ready at appropriate junctures to support leadership continuity.  Leadership development will be woven into the organization’s corporate objectives as part of the strategic planning process.
Identify Critical Positions
A key decision point in the succession planning process is identification of critical positions that will ensure leadership continuity.  Because critical positions have a strong impact on the organization, they must be filled by competent, knowledgeable leaders.  To maximize the benefits of the succession planning process, a phased approach should be utilized to provide the opportunity to learn from succession planning at each level. 
Identify Core Leadership Competencies

Once critical positions have been identified, the competencies required to successfully fulfill the responsibilities and functions of those positions can be identified.  Interviews with the leadership team will be conducted and the essential competencies for both the present and future are reduced to writing so that candidates understand expectations.
Succession Planning Set as Goals for Senior Managers
When senior managers develop their individual and departmental goals, leadership continuity should be an important element of the process.  The metrics developed during the process can be utilized as performance management criteria to ensure that senior managers commit to and support the organization’s succession plan.
Differentiate Between High Potentials and High Performers
Not all high performing employees are high potential candidates, and an important step in the process is to differentiate between the two.  High performing employees are successfully completing the requirements of their current position; however, they have limited potential in terms of top leadership positions.  High potential candidates must be high performers and have the willingness, drive, and qualities that establish them as likely contenders for top level positions.
Create Position Profiles
Each critical position will have a written position profile which describes the skills, knowledge, experience and core competencies required in order to successfully fulfill the position’s responsibilities.  Human Resources will partner with incumbents in the target positions
to develop profiles for their level, which can then serve as guides for high potential candidates.
Conduct an Integrated Key Talent Review Session
The present leadership has the most comprehensive understanding of the skills, knowledge, and talents that are necessary for success in meeting organizational objectives.  This is the core group of people who will be brought together to identify high potential candidates within the organization who can be coached and mentored to prepare them for targeted key positions.  In the identification process, attention should be directed to diversity in terms of gender, race, and age to ensure that different perspectives and approaches are brought into leadership positions.

Conduct Multi-Rater Feedback

In order to provide comprehensive, meaningful input about candidates’ skills, knowledge and competencies, a multi-rater feedback process will be designed and implemented. Incumbents in the targeted positions will be the first to receive feedback in this process.

Determine Individual Leadership Gaps

An outcome of the multi-rater feedback process is clarification of gaps in skills, knowledge and competencies of incumbents and high potential candidates.  The input provided by peers, supervisors, and direct reports that observe the rated individuals frequently will help determine specific areas for development to ensure that incumbents and candidates possess critical competencies required for organization success.
Develop List of Potential Directed Assignments

Top level leaders are in an excellent position to take a global perspective towards directed assignments that can prepare high potential candidates for leadership positions.  The directed assignments should be designed to meet business imperatives and provide a return on the investment in candidates’ time, education, and potential relocation. The Director of Human Resources is a resource available to the individual and his/her manager to identify potential assignments.
Create Leadership Development Curriculum
If any leadership gaps are identified during the multi-rater process, a Leadership Development Curriculum will be designed with the assistance of People Services to close the gap in experience, training, or competency levels.

Create Individual Development Plans

Human Resources, in conjunction with the respective managers and high potential candidates, will create Individual Development Plans (IDP’s) closely linked to business imperatives.  The IDP’s will be tailored to close the gaps identified in the multi-rater feedback process and could consist of global assignments, special projects, mentoring, cross-functional job rotations, etc.
Implement Individual Development Plans
The tailored IDP’s are implemented, with the understanding and commitment that the supervisor and high potential candidate will review the IDP on a semi-annual basis.
Set Quarterly Checkpoint Meetings
The senior management team, and Human Resources will hold a quarterly checkpoint meeting to review and assess the status of the individual development plans.  Appropriate changes will be made at this time to ensure that high potentials are receiving the guidance and education necessary to meet the objectives of the Succession Plan.
Schedule Annual Talent Review Discussion
The senior management team and Human Resources will hold an annual talent review discussion to determine where the candidates’ skills, knowledge, and competency levels are in comparison with determined needs.  The results of this discussion will be a determination of ready now, ready in 6-12 months, and ready in 24-36 months.
Review Human Resources for Alignment
Human Resource systems such as recruitment and selection, strategic rewards and recognition, and career pathing will be assessed to ensure alignment with the Succession Planning process.  Any systems that are misaligned will be adjusted to support the Succession Plan.
Determine Outcomes, Communication Method, and Metrics of the Succession Planning Process
In order to understand whether the plan for leadership continuity is successful, it’s necessary to develop concrete criteria for success.  The primary question at this point should be, “what does success look like?”  Metrics will be established to measure success, and a strategy for communicating success to stakeholders will be created.
Measure Results
Throughout the Succession Planning process, results will be measured using the criteria established at the beginning of the process.  The process outcomes will be shared with stakeholders at every opportunity to promote continued buy-in and ensure a return on investment in the Succession Plan.
                  This is an excerpt from Dr. Gravett’s new book with Dr. Caldwell,
                  Learning Agility:  The Impact on Recruiting and Retention, available



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