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Dear Workforce How Do We Reverse a Trend of Tapping People as Interim Leaders Who Are Not Adequately Prepared?

April 1, 2009
Dear Improvements Needed:

When there are unexpected leadership vacancies, there is often a rush to fill the vacuum with someone who will "do for now."

Unfortunately, these short-term attempts can be more dangerous for your organization by clogging the leadership pipeline. Negative consequences begin to surface for organizational culture, performance, engagement, and talent retention. So what can be done to prevent these poor internal decisions?

Proactively create talent pools
For entry-level leadership roles, many organizations create a pool of individual contributors interested in moving into formal leadership roles. This takes the guesswork out of knowing which people may be interested and well-suited to fill leadership vacancies. Initial entry into the pool can be based on self-identification.

Organizations should post information about what it means to be a leader, so self-motivated members of the pool can compare their background and skills with the "success profile" and take steps to close the gap, if necessary.

For higher-level leadership roles, inclusion in the talent pool should be more formalized and should include a nomination and talent review process involving individuals' managers.

Once the pool has been established, members should be proactively assessed to create meaningful development plans and should be assigned to senior stakeholders who will be accountable for ensuring that development fills any existing gaps in knowledge, experience and competencies. Pool members being considered for more senior roles should also be given insights into their personal characteristics that either enable or potentially derail their success in executive-level roles.

Consider the full success profile
Your question points out an all-too-common reality of internal promotions. The decision to move someone into a leadership role is often based on only a subset of factors that drive success in these roles. A complete success profile includes knowledge, experience, competencies (or skills) and personal characteristics (motivations, preferences, dispositions). Too often, these promotion decisions are based only on a quick assessment of knowledge and experience. How often have you heard something like this?

"Let's put so-and-so in the role for now—he knows the department procedures well and has worked on several key projects."

Unfortunately, there is no consideration of key competencies required in the role (coaching others, building partnership, influencing decisions, gaining commitment) or for personal characteristics or motivations. Does the person even want to lead others, or would they be more engaged and satisfied as an individual contributor? As pool members are considered for specific leadership positions, they should be assessed against the full profile through some combination of interviews, behavioral assessments and knowledge/experience checks.

Ensure sustainability
But this process will move from what is easy and convenient ("Promote this guy; he's been around awhile and seems to know his stuff.") to an approach that will result in the identification and promotion of more productive leaders. This has to be approached as a change initiative and not just an implementation of a new HR policy or program.

First, senior managers should clearly communicate the business need for moving to this new process. Second, make sure that managers are trained on the necessary skills to support this change, such as competency-based interviewing. Finally, plan to measure and document the key variables targeted for improvement so that you can demonstrate meaningful progress for the organization, whether that is improved performance, employee retention or client satisfaction.

SOURCE: Jim Kauffman, consulting team leader, prototype team, Development Dimensions International Inc., Pittsburgh, March 5, 2009

LEARN MORE: A strategy for identifying leaders doesn't end with the promotion. It's also important to hold executives accountable for their actions and the desired results.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.
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