Leader Imperative #3. Talent: Four Best Practices for Sustainable Success

“Mastering the New Normal” – A Continuing Series

“My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people.”
– Jack Welch, Former CEO, General Electric

The best leaders make a priority of talent grooming in good times and bad because the alternatives- just-in-time recruitment or premature promotion- are too risky.

They proactively guard against Talent Risks that can compromise top- and bottom-line performance. These risks include:

  • Vacancy risk – degree to which critical positions are unfilled
  • Readiness risk – degree to which identified successors are not yet ready for promotion
  • Transition risk – degree to which external recruits are assimilated into the organization
  • Flight risk – degree to which key players are attracted (and attractive) to the competition

Four Leader Best Practices

  1. Keep the Leader in Leadership Development.
    A common frustration voiced by HR professionals and board directors alike is a lack of active leadership development sponsorship by senior management. By contrast, leaders committed to mastering the New Normal “walk the talk” by making talent development and succession planning a formal part of managers’ performance programs and bonus criteria. They support professional development funding even when budgets are tight, knowing that ongoing investment is necessary to keep the bench strong and their top performers engaged and motivated.
  2. Focus Succession Planning on Specific Positions and Hard-to-Replace Skills.
    Relying on a generic talent pool of next-generation professionals won’t cut it in today’s world. Leaders, in tandem with their HR partners, need to focus on critical roles, skill sets and expertise that their organizations need now and in the future. For example, the impact of e-commerce and cyber-security on business and communications is sure to grow. Competition for qualified professionals in these fields is white-hot now.Anticipating future needs and customizing individual development planning is especially critical in professional service firms, academia, and research institutions where advancement into the management ranks may require adding a completely new repertoire of skills and capabilities.
  3. Hire for Organizational Compatibility.
    Research shows that 40 percent of external executive hires leave within 18 months. This is a huge cost in terms of recruitment and separation expenses and reduced productivity. Smart leaders and boards understand that organizational fit is a critical selection factor – a “must-have” and not a “nice-to-have.” This is the case even when the position calls for change: successful hiring decisions still balance the need for change with cultural fit.
  4. Provide Your Top People with High Impact Opportunities.
    The best and brightest seek visibility and opportunity to make their mark. In most sectors this means achieving a management position with profit-loss or policy making responsibilities. Groups that remain under-represented in the C-suite and boardroom, such as women and minorities, are keenly aware that senior line management experience is a prerequisite for these prize spots. They will seek a surer path elsewhere if they cannot access these positions where they currently work.

Leader Action Items

To execute brilliantly you need to be tops at talent. Make these actions a priority:

  • Adopt a disciplined, intensive talent review at least once a year that addresses current and anticipated talent needs and customized succession planning.
  • Be visible and personal in your support of leadership development. Share stories and lessons learned from your own career experiences.
  • Make talent development and mentoring activities part of your organization’s norms and incentive program.
  • Hire right. This means recruiting for a whole-person fit…always.

Next Month: How Reputation factors into mastering the New Normal.

About the Author

Susan Battley

An advisor to Fortune 100 executives and world-class institutions for more than twenty years, Dr. Susan Battley is an internationally recognized expert on CEO and leadership effectiveness. Her clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional service firms, and elite research institutions. She has worked with chief executives, university presidents, Nobel laureates, and prominent scientists, diplomats, and educators. A respected media source for analyzing leadership in the context of news-breaking events and key trends, Battley has been featured in outlets worldwide including CNN, CNBC, Fox, Bloomberg, and National Public Radio, and in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chief Executive, Business Week, United Press International, Harvard Management Update, Entrepreneur, Science, Leader to Leader, Investments, and Worth. She is the founder and CEO of Battley Performance Consulting, a leadership strategy and organization effectiveness consultancy.