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Planting for a future harvest

Planting for a future harvest

Many CIOs are hobbling their potential for career advancement by not having adequate succession plans. But cultivating up-and-coming talent can be beneficial to an organisation in more ways than one.

Conscientious talent management and succession planning is now a mainstream expectation for all executives. The continuing challenge for good talent depth in the chief information officer's team and the IT organisation makes this more significant for CIOs than for many other executives. Focusing on talent management is no longer something you do when things slow down. It's a must-do, so you can deal effectively with growth and changing or shifting demands - be they to contain costs, develop innovative ways to please customers or integrate an acquired business. But too many CIOs, and organisations, continue to underestimate the risk they place themselves and their companies in by thinking of talent management and succession planning as something to focus on next week, next month or next year.

What if you want to take on a line-of-business role in your organisation?

In conversation with a CIO recently (let's call her Debra), we were discussing her future career options. Debra had terrific experience as an IT professional and manager, had spent three years working for a respected consulting firm (largely in IT) and was now concluding her third year as CIO. While her performance was well regarded in the company, we agreed that if she really wanted to be considered as a potential chief executive officer she needed to have relevant and recent experience managing a line of business and delivering on profit and loss. She was very interested in the option of taking on the position of general manager of one of the company's business lines, a position that was becoming available due to an impending retirement.

My immediate question to Debra was: "What is the strength of your IT leadership team and are there potential internal candidates for your position?" The question was really about the potential risk she was posing to her CEO in leaving her current position. To what extent could she honestly indicate that the risk was low because she had a very good team with one or more individuals whom the CEO and his executive peers would be comfortable about seeing step up into the CIO position?

Debra blanched somewhat at this and said that she was always intending to get around to some serious focus on the whole matter of succession planning, but there were always more urgent priorities. While she had a good team, perhaps she hadn't put the time and effort into careful talent development and management. Two team members could potentially step up, but not just yet. And then there was the problem of the next layer down - the pipeline into the IT leadership team, which was a bit thin.

The immediate outcome of our talk was that Debra did not tell her CEO she was interested in the forthcoming GM role. Instead she said she would be keen to take on such a role in about two years, when her team had the bench strength it needed so that several members could be in the candidate pool for a search for a new CIO if she transferred to another position in the company.

Good talent management maximises organisational performance and minimises risk:

Debra's experience is not uncommon. If you are a well-regarded executive, your CEO and peers want to know that you have managed the company's risk if you want an internal transfer, or if you are unfortunate enough to be in an accident, suffer serious illness or just decide it's time for a sea change. In my view, the best compliment any executive can receive is that they have built a sustainable team that is not dependent for its success on one person - you as the leader.

Great talent will go to where it is appreciated, valued and encouraged to thrive. If you want that talent to be part of your team, and remain part of your team, it requires serious and genuine focus on knowing and growing the capabilities that you have.

In the long term, it's much more effective to develop and nurture the talent you have than constantly bring in new people, especially at a senior level. Sure, you need some turnover to refresh a team, and sometimes to help staff or backfill for new developments, but constantly having to recruit externally through lack of talent development internally demoralises people. It's just poor management.

Good talent management requires systematic focus on capabilities:

Good talent management starts with a systematic approach to understanding the real potential of your current talent pool. It's more than ensuring 360-degree reviews and making sure performance appraisals are completed each year, and it's more than sending messages by skewing bonus pools for performance. If done well, these are important sources of critical and constructive feedback to team members. But they usually don't provide an objective and in-depth review of an individual's real capabilities in the context of the potential contribution to your organisation.

The essence of good talent management can be summarised into four actions:

* Gain objective and actionable insights into your team's, and their team's, technical, managerial and leadership capabilities.

* Act on those insights, not just once, but constantly, taking a longitudinal and integrated approach to tracking developments over time.

* Identify or create development programs tailored for individuals (and teams) to meet your organisation's needs.

* Go outside for talent when you have to.

Gain objective and actionable insights into your team members' capabilities:

It's hard to develop an individual's capabilities if you don't really understand where they are right now. As executive search and leadership assessment practitioners, at Edward W Kelley & Partners we draw on a very grounded capability framework built up through working with hundreds of organisations and thousands of individuals both through executive searches and leadership assessments.

Other organisations that operate in this area will have their versions. The purpose here is simply to illustrate where and how these approaches assist executives with the challenges of talent management and succession planning.

By way of example, we have worked with a financial services organisation assisting a newly appointed CIO to gain a quick understanding of his team. We gave him feedback initially on the organisational and structural changes he was planning to make. When he had settled on the first phase of new organisational arrangements and revised positions, we worked with his staff to develop position descriptions and a role-specific capability framework for each.

This framework identified the specific leadership, management and technical requirements for each role. Each member of his team, and then many of their direct reports, were included in a process to understand their track record and potential, particularly in light of the new structure, focus and positions.

In the end the new team comprised the majority of the previous incumbents, two from the next level down, and two positions became the subject of an external search due to lack of specific experience and capabilities among the top 20 or so in the IT organisation.

Act on insights and take a longitudinal and integrated approach to capability development:

Make sure you don't raise expectations that you then don't deliver on, by undertaking assessments and not acting on the results. Sometimes it seems that doing leadership or management assessments is like the barramundi catch in Australia. There is a lot of barramundi listed on restaurant menus but not too many actually caught in the wild.

A good leader knows there will be some hard decisions to make and will make them. Our experience is that when a process is transparent and fair, people welcome the results and the action. Often, by finally recognising real talent and contribution, you bring out what has been simmering under the surface for years.

It's about making visible and tangible what is often invisible, but the source of well-founded mutterings. At the same time we find that others are often relieved to have honest and helpful feedback that enables them to make decisions they might have put off for years.

If you want to send a message to your team about what really matters in terms of talent potential and behaviour, it is important to ensure that there is internal consistency in how you assess and develop current staff, how you reward them and what you look for in new people to join the team.

We are currently working with a services provider to complement the talent identification approaches they already have in place. In some ways, they have been more focused on talent management than other firms due to both organic and acquisitive growth. But their efforts in this area comprise a series of separate activities rather than a holistic approach. We are assisting them to integrate their disparate and disconnected approaches to assessment for external searches, for talent development and for appraisal.

Identify or create development programs tailored for individuals (and teams) to meet your organisation's needs:

Usually, the higher you go in organisations, the more individual and specific the development programs need to be if individuals and organisations are really to benefit. They might include mentoring, perhaps from an individual with a very different background, perhaps from a colleague on the same level, or perhaps some upwards mentoring from Generation Y professionals, especially if your organisation works in consumer-related areas.

Development programs could include being part of a team in another sector of the organisation, being seconded for 12 months to a new business, a sabbatical to pursue a pet project, or acting as chief of staff for one of the executives. It could include a short course at a national business school, or one located elsewhere. There are many possibilities. The key criterion is what is most likely to develop the capabilities of the individual to contribute to both their success and the success of the business or the organisation.

Go outside for talent when you have to:

Organisations that make a point of developing their internal talent tend to have a much more focused approach when they need to recruit externally. They are in tune with the real capabilities that they need, and with the values and cultural attributes they are seeking in external candidates.

Their teams have a better shared understanding of what they want and need in talent that they are seeking to bring into the organisation. In short, their external recruitment is likely to entail less risk than it would for those who have not focused so much on internal talent management

Succession planning should now be seen as a basic requirement:

A further evolution of talent management is having an understanding of the talent pool available for succession at multiple levels in the organisation. While you can never guarantee who should succeed whom and when, an extension to effective development of your talent is mapping the potential trajectory of professionals, managers and executives against incumbents.

The goal is to ensure you have a developing pool of talent to meet succession needs. That pool of talent becomes smaller the higher you go in the organisation, or the more specific and specialised the technical capabilities become.

One of the major concerns of some organisations today is the ageing and impending retirement of baby boomers and the expertise and experience they will take with them. Understanding exactly the stages and ages of the individuals who make up your workforce is a basic requirement, both for managing the workforce today and for managing succession.

Conscientious talent management is just good management:

The expectations for effective CIOs will continue to evolve, as they have for the past 20 years. The increasing maturity and experience of CIOs and their teams, and their importance to the business, have raised the profile and value of talent management and succession planning.

There is no readily obtainable pool of great talent to meet all the needs of business, industry and government. Organisations that want to compete successfully both in their business and in the talent marketplace need to know and nurture the capabilities they have. They need to understand what motivates people, and understand the strategically significant leadership, managerial and technical capabilities that they have and that they need.

In this area, smart organisations put in place specific strategies to meet the capability and developmental needs of their talent pool and for smooth transitions during successions. They develop programs tailored for individuals to meet the organisation's future needs, understanding that if individuals believe their capabilities are continuing to be developed by their organisation, they are less likely to want to go elsewhere.

Remember, great talent will go to the places where it is appreciated, valued and encouraged to thrive. Effective talent management requires taking thoughtful and considered actions today. It's not something to do next month or next year. By then the talent will have walked and it's very hard to get it back.

Marianne Broadbent Marianne Broadbent is a managing director at Edward W Kelley & Partners, a global executive search and leadership assessment firm.

© Fairfax Business Media

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Tags leadershiprecruitmentskills shortagesuccession planninggen Ygeneration yexecutive roleMarianne Broadbent

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