Category Archives: leadership development

Adjusting as Gen Y Takes Charge

Just last week, I finished writing a feature focusing on what a handful of 2015’s “Most Admired for HR” organizations are doing to prime today’s young employees for tomorrow’s leadership roles.

(By the way, this piece is slated to run in the upcoming December edition of HRE, and, naturally, I think you should check it and the rest of the issue out.)

In “Millennials Take Up the Mantle,” HR leaders from companies such as Wells Fargo and Comcast Corp. share some of the programs and initiatives they’ve put in place to groom employees of the millennial generation—a cohort that most projections say will make up roughly 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2025—for the leadership and management positions they’ll soon take over in large numbers.

Many millennials—generally defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—are already transitioning into leadership roles, of course. Some new data, however, suggests they aren’t the only ones who could use some help adjusting to Gen Y being in charge.

A recent study conducted by Future Workplace and Beyond surveyed 5,771 employees of all ages. Overall, 83 percent of respondents said that millennials are currently managing Gen X and baby boomer employees at their organizations. Among Gen X and boomer respondents, however, 45 percent said they feel that millennials’ lack of managerial experience could have a negative impact on a company’s culture.

And, while 44 percent of millennial respondents regard themselves as being the most capable generation to lead in the workplace, just 14 percent of participants overall agree that Gen Y workers are the best for the job.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see that some (OK, many) older employees aren’t completely comfortable with taking orders from younger, less experienced colleagues, at least not initially. And that uneasiness may help explain the more than one-third of millennials who reported difficulty in managing older employees.

All the concerned parties here certainly have some work to do if they and their organizations are to succeed. In the aforementioned HRE feature, Vanessa Walsh, who heads up leadership and professional development at Wells Fargo, explained what the San Francisco-based banking and financial services firm is doing to help its people bridge the generation gap.

Wells Fargo, which holds the No. 11 spot on this year’s “Most Admired for HR” list, currently oversees 10 affinity groups. The latest addition is “My Generation,” which consists of employees from different age cohorts “who are interested in what it means to be of a certain generation in the workforce,” says Walsh. “We don’t have one group focused on boomers or Gen Xers or millennials. These groups just get people together to learn about these different age groups.”

The idea, she says, is to discuss—and in some cases, debunk—stereotypes associated with various generations in the workplace.

What the group is not, says Walsh, is an effort to force young workers to adapt to old and “established” ways of working. Such an endeavor would be fruitless anyhow, she says.

“I don’t know that we’re going to ‘rewire’ 75 percent of the workforce. Nor should we. So, for me, the question becomes, ‘How do we shift to where they are?’ ”

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Changing Priorities for Recruiters

How different will the world of recruiting look five years from now? If you ask Kevin Wheeler, founder of The Future of Talent Institute in Fremont, Calif., the answer is really different!

ThinkstockPhotos-478800411Wheeler, a self-described “futurist,” told attendees at this week’s Recruiting Trends Conference at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort in Orlando, Fla., that recruiters should brace for dramatic change in the coming months and years.

Among a few of the forces at work in reshaping the recruiting landscape are increased automation and the changing nature of work.

Because of automation, Wheeler said, “mid-level and manufacturing-worker jobs are disappearing,” opening the way for workers who possess significantly higher skill levels.

“I was in Australia a few weeks ago, where they have McDonald’s with no workers in the front of the store,” he recalled. “You order on a kiosk … and they have two employees bring your food out.

”Think of all of those people who work at McDonald’s who won’t have jobs in a few years,” he said.

Wheeler pointed to an Oxford University study titled The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? showing that telemarketers, accountants and auditors, and retail sales people were among the jobs most at risk of disappearing.

Recruiters, he said, are also going to become much more technologically savvy.

“You probably have read [Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s 2011 book] Race Against the Machine — that we’re competing against computers and technology,” he said. But a better way to think about it, he added, is as a race with the machine, because if you end up racing against the machine, you’re going to lose!

Wheeler noted that recruiters are also going to need to get their hands around a workplace that includes many more contract workers. (Gig workers were the subject of a recent HRE cover story titled “The Contingent Quandary.”) When he asked how many of those in the room were involved in selecting contract workers, only a few hands went up. But in the future, he predicted, recruiters are going to need to play a much more active role in advising hiring managers on the merits of bringing in such workers, based on the type of work that needs to be done.

“Forget about culture,” he said. “It’s going to be more about whether or not that person can repair this chair.”

As a result, Wheeler said, recruiters are going to need to possess a different set of skills, such as social intelligence, virtual collaboration, co-creation and cross-cultural competence. “These are going to be core to your survival, not interviewing skills and sourcing skills,” he said. “Computers can do those.”

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Keeping the CHRO in the C-Suite

Human resources is rarely appreciated for providing thought leadership.

At least, that’s according to Lynda Spiegel,  who wrote “Why HR Belongs in the C-Suite” on the Wall Street Journal‘s The Experts blog today.

Spiegel, who spent 15 years as an HR professional, writes that most companies hire a senior HR professional to report to the COO or the CFO, trivializing the profession into a function “rather than an overarching discipline” integral to incubating corporate success:

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for chief executives whose understanding varied with respect to how human resources contributes their companies’ growth and productivity, but they each initially viewed human resources as a nonrevenue producing function limited to personnel management. Some came to recognize the need for a chief human resources officer to provide strategic direction alongside the CFO, COO and CMO. One CEO, however, memorably invited me to the c-suite only once. And that was to discuss the annual holiday party.

But, she continues, CHROs belong in the C-suite not only for their role in managing companies’ critical asset— aka its talent—but also because they make the C-suite team more effective. “They help focus the team as a cohesive unit and by doing so, support the CEO’s mission and with their skills in organizational psychology, can arguably better manage meeting dynamics when things get rocky.”

As Spiegel concludes: “The most effective CHROs don’t necessarily come from a HR background, but they are as much strategic visionaries as their cohorts in the C-suite.”

Spiegel’s compelling argument is sound and makes great business sense. The only question is whether the other members of the C-suite are actually reading it.

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Connecting Work to a Higher Purpose at KPMG

musclesAccounting — perhaps not the world’s most exciting profession, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its moments in history. Accountants, after all, helped manage the Lend-Lease Act during World War II that helped defeat Nazi Germany. They helped resolve financial conflicts that enabled the agreement to free the Iran hostages in 1981, and they certified the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994.

The accountants cited above all happened to work for KPMG. Now, the firm is using these and other stories from its past to ramp up employee engagement by connecting their work to a higher purpose, writes Bruce N. Pfau, KPMG’s vice chair of HR and communications, in a new post on the Harvard Business Review’s website.

In connecting to a “higher purpose,” Pfau cites the (possibly apocryphal) story of President Kennedy and the janitor at Cape Canaveral: When JFK asked the janitor “What do you do?” the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Citing research showing that connecting their work to a higher purpose motivates employees to go the extra mile, KPMG began an initiative last year “aimed at inspiring our already high-morale workforce to reach new levels of engagement by reframing and elevating the meaning and purpose of their work,” writes Pfau.

Pfau’s team created a video that highlighted great moments from KPMG’s past, such as the aforementioned accomplishments, with the theme “We Shape History!” Next, they created posters with the slogan “We Champion Democracy,” with the goal of helping employees see themselves as part of a profession that helps societies by enabling families to make better financial decisions.

Finally, the team presented KPMG’s employees with a challenge: Create 10,000 digital posters that celebrate the work you or your team does. Employees would receive two extra paid days off if the goal was met by Thanksgiving; that goal was met before July 4 and, by Thanksgiving, 42,000 stories had been submitted.

One year after the initiative began, Pfau writes, the percentage of employees who agreed that KPMG is a great place to work went from 85 percent to 89 percent on its engagement surveys, 60 percent said the initiative had strengthened their pride in KPMG, and the firm jumped 17 spots on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work list to become the highest-ranked Big Four firm for the first time in its history.

One problem Pfau encountered was that, although a key ingredient to success appeared to be managers’ willingness to talk to their teams about the positive impact of the work they did, some managers did not do this. The difference was noticeable: The turnover rate within the group whose managers talked to them about purpose was 5.6 percent, versus 9.1 percent within  the group whose managers did not do this.

In response, Pfau incorporated “purpose storytelling training” into KPMG’s leadership development programs. The training certainly appears to have been effective in one example he writes about: In speaking to a group of 1,500 interns about her higher purpose, a partner who’d gone through the training concluded with a parable about three bricklayers restoring a church — when asked what they were doing, one bricklayer replied “I’m laying bricks,” another replied “I’m repairing a wall” and the third replied “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty.”

“So,” the partner concluded, “do you want to be bricklayers or cathedral builders?” The crowd leaped to their feet, writes Pfau.

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Not So Fast in the Race to Innovate?

Is innovation overrated? Well, if we’re to believe researchers from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business who have studied Formula One racing teams, the answer could very well be “yes.”

ThinkstockPhotos-184766512OK, Formula One racers wouldn’t be the first place I would look either to better understand the workings of innovation. But academic researchers at the school recently pored over data from 49 teams over a period of 30 years of Formula One racing and found that those innovating the most (say, making radical changes to their cars) weren’t usually the most successful on the course.

“We found that it wasn’t always good to be the aggressive innovator,” according to Jaideep Anand, co-author of the study and professor of strategy at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. (The study, titled Driving Performance via Exploration in Changing Environments: Evidence from Formula One Racing, is featured in the current issue of the journal Organization Science.)

In other words, he says, the “conventional wisdom that companies need to embrace change is often wrong,”

But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to equate the kind of innovation occurring on a race track to business?

Not according to Anand.

Forumula One racing, he says, is actually a very good venue to study the value of innovation in business, because it’s an innovation-intensive industry with teams of engineers, drivers and sponsors who all have to work together to succeed.

As an OSU press release issued yesterday puts it …

“The independent governing body for Formula One (FIA) imposes changes to racing teams’ environments by releasing a new set of rules each year, which is similar to the changes in the regulatory and business environment that businesses face on a regular basis.”

OK, I sincerely doubt  many business leaders are going to instruct their innovation teams to slam their foot on the brakes in light of these findings. But that said, I suppose it’s never a bad idea to revisit what you’re doing on the innovation front and see what kind of impact it’s having. Who knows, maybe a tune-up might be in order?

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Aon Hewitt Think Tank: Let’s Talk Leadership

Panelists discuss leadership trends at Aon Hewitt's Top Companies for Leaders Think Tank event. Photo courtesy of Frank Mari

Panelists discuss leadership trends at Aon Hewitt’s Top Companies for Leaders Think Tank event. Photo courtesy of Frank Mari

Each year, our “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night” survey asks HRE readers to share some of the challenges that keep them counting sheep in the wee hours.

We recently closed this year’s poll—the results of which you can find in our upcoming July/August print and digital editions. While the findings yielded some surprises— as they always do—HR’s biggest woes remain pretty much the same in 2015. When asked to identify the biggest HR challenges facing their organization today, the most common replies were “ensuring employees remain engaged and productive” (39 percent), “retaining key talent” (26 percent), and “developing leaders” (24 percent). These issues have comprised the top three challenges among our readership for three years running.

CHROs at some firms, however, are apparently sleeping more soundly than others, at least as far as leadership development is concerned.

Earlier this week, I had a chance to listen to HR leaders at a handful of organizations who excel in this area; so much so that they earned a spot on Aon Hewitt’s most recent Top Companies for Leaders list, which consists of 25 organizations singled out for their strength of leadership practices and culture, examples of leadership development on a global scale, alignment of business and leadership strategy, business performance and company reputation.

On Monday evening, representatives from 23 of these 25 companies converged on General Electric’s picturesque GE Crotonville campus in Ossining, N.Y. There, they would spend the next two days talking about some of the leadership development efforts that landed them on the guest list for “the party that everyone wants to attend,” said Pete Sanborn, the Atlanta-based global practice leader of Aon’s talent and organizational practice group, in kicking off Tuesday morning’s activities by individually acknowledging each of the Top Companies and the characteristics that set them apart.

One trait shared by these organizations is a knack for finding and nurturing potential leaders early on in their careers, and setting them on the leadership track.

As part of a Tuesday morning panel presentation, GE’s Peter Cavanaugh and Belinda Tang from IBM Corp. discussed approaches to identifying and assessing young, would-be leaders. (GE and IBM hold the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Aon’s latest Top Companies for Leaders list, respectively.)

Entry-level leadership initiatives are certainly “not a new concept,” said Cavanaugh, global learning and operations leader at GE.

Such programs, however, “provide a framework for taking new approaches to developing leaders,” he said.

GE, for example, selects certain entry-level employees to work on high-level project groups, providing ideas and input, and, moreover, getting a taste of what it’s like to lead a team.

At IBM, the Armonk, N.Y.-based technology company has introduced Consulting by Degrees, a developmental program designed to groom top, entry-level business consultants to one day fill leadership positions.

Within the program, these young IBMers “are operating like senior consultants,” said Tang, vice president of global leadership development at IBM.

Participants build core skills over a two-year period, performing work for clients and returning to the classroom every six months to practice speaking with clients and “doing the things that make a great consultant” before deciding the area in which they want to specialize, she said.

Getting broad leadership experience under their belts in their early days at IBM helps these high-potential consultants find a niche within the organization—regardless of their pedigree, Tang told the audience.

“We hire the best athlete,” she said. “We’ve had dance majors who have flourished with us.”

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Diversity, Leadership and Performance: i4cp Report

In HRE’s most-recent annual “What Keeps HR Executives Up at Night” survey, HR leaders ranked attracting and retaining diverse talent sixth on their list of top concerns, just below driving culture change and aligning people practices to business.

185905158Of course, it’s hardly a surprise attracting and retaining diverse talent would be a significant concern, considering the obvious benefits of employing a diverse workforce. But that said, there’s also little question employers have a lot more work to do on this front.

The link between diversity and business performance was one of many topics address during the i4cp 2015 Conference, held this week at the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In his opening remarks, Kevin Oakes, CEO of i4cp, referenced a recent research report produced by the institute titled Diversity & Inclusion Practices that Promote Market Performance.

The research found high-performance organizations shared the following characteristics as far as D&I is concerned, including:

  • They make D&I part of the organization’s DNA;
  • They ground their D&I efforts in metrics, thereby spurring greater leadership buy-in;
  • They place greater emphasis on inclusion;
  • They have leaders who “seek awareness of differences” and “take action to establish relationships” that bridge gaps and build an understanding of differences.

Later in the morning, a panel featuring diversity leaders from CVS Health, W.W. Grainger and Lincoln Financial participated on a panel titled “Business Impact Diversity & Inclusion.”

Jacqui Roberson, senior director of inclusion and diversity for Grainger, noted that far too many organizations still operate in silos. In order for D&I initiatives to succeed, she said, employers need to get people to “cross over the lines.”

David Green, vice president of diversity at CVS Health, noted that having a CEO who gets it certainly doesn’t hurt.  Referring to CVS Health’s recent decision to remove tobacco from its store shelves, Green recalled how, soon after the decision was announced, his CEO came to him and said, “ ‘Just so you know, we need to make sure we’re thinking about what this means in helping [employees] quit tobacco. We need to be focused on multicultural communities, youth communities and lower-income communities.’ … I didn’t have to go knocking on his door to say, ‘What do you think about all those diverse communities.’ ”

At CVS Health, Green said, diversity operates as a separate function, but works closely with HR to ensure shared goals are in place and each group knows what the other is doing.

Altimeter Group Founder and Principal Analyst Charlene Li also explored some  key themes from her new book (released Tuesday, the day of her talk) during a session titled “The Engaged Leader: A Strategy for Digital Transformation.” (Her book shares the same title as the session.)

Technologies are changing the nature of relationships, Li said. Yet many leaders, she added, continue to be stuck in the old ways of doing things.

If organizations are going to thrive in the new digital era, she said, that’s going to need to change.

“Technologies come and go,” she said, “but leadership is [always going to be around] and something you need to have a long-term strategy about.”

In her talk, Li shared several examples involving companies that are using technologies to strengthen the link between leaders and employees.

One story she told involved the introduction of a new burger at restaurant chain Red Robin.  Soon after the launch, she said, leaders at Red Robin learned through the company’s internal social network that the burger wasn’t very good. Employees were saying on the site that “people were complaining about it” and “the burger was falling apart,” she said.

Listening to that feedback, Li said, the organization quickly realized it had a problem and leaders went back to employees for more details. “They then took [that feedback] back to corporate headquarters, cooked up a new recipe and brought it back to the restaurants in 30 days.”

To put this in context, Li said, “it usually takes 12 to 18 months to change a recipe and get it back to the restaurants, but they did it [in this case] in 30 days!”

As a result, she said, Red Robin didn’t just change the recipe. By recognizing the value these employees were delivering to the organization, she said, “they were able to change [the company’s] relationship with those employees.”

Value—or more precisely the “lack of it”—was one of the reasons behind Sears Holdings Corp.’s decision to begin to seriously revamp its performance-management system last year.

During a session titled “The Rise of the Crowd: How Social Platforms Can Drive Performance and Democratize Performance Management,” two Sears Holdings Corp. HR leaders detailed the retailer’s efforts to transform the way it does performance management.

Aimed at salaried workers, the new initiative is based on the work of Neuroleadership Institute Director David Rock and others.

“The old process was cumbersome and annual reviews were happening three or four months after the year had ended—so by the time we were having the conversation, things were stale,” recalled Phil Menzel, vice president of HR for SHC.

In contrast, Menzel said, the new system is much more agile and responsive.

Using a tool developed internally called GameOn, associates every quarter now sit down to identify up to five objectives for themselves.

The new system also features an online feedback tool called Soundboard, which is accessible to associates. “People can go on the tool and request feedback from anyone in the company or provide feedback,” said Chris Mason, head of strategic talent solutions at SHC. “It gives people something they can take action on right away.”

The final part of the new process is a quarterly “check-in” component aimed at facilitating a more meaningful dialogue between associates and managers.

Martin noted that associates now have to prepare as much for the check-ins (which includes a one-page worksheet) as their managers.

Though still very much a work in progress, the new system has already shown some good traction, according to Menzel and Mason.

Introduced last August, the Soundboard tool already has 10,000 active users and has resulted in 40,000 pieces of feedback. “When we surveyed people, 75 percent said they took the information and actually made a change in [their] behavior,” Mason said.

The new system officially launched in February.

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The Long Lost Art of Listening at Work

It’s tough to be a good listener in the workplace these days — even if you consider listening one of your strengths. That’s according to #ListenLearnLead, a new survey out from Accenture today based on responses from 3,600 professionals from 30 countries.

Nearly all of the respondents (96 percent) consider themselves to be “good listeners,” yet 98 percent report that they spend part of their workday multitasking and 64 percent say that listening “has become significantly more difficult in today’s digital workplace.”

Interestingly, though, despite the plethora of smartphones, tablets and other must-have yet highly distractable devices in today’s modern office, the most-cited distractions by the respondents were of the more old-school variety: When asked what interrupts their workday the most, 79 percent cited telephone calls and 72 percent cited unscheduled meetings and visitors. That compares to the 30 percent and 28 percent, respectively, who cited instant messaging and texting.

Rampant multitasking is a routine part of the workday, judging by the survey’s results: Eight in 10 respondents say they multitask on conference calls with work emails, instant messaging, personal emails, social media and reading news and entertainment. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind for your next conference call: if you’re the presenter, try and keep things lively, quick and fast, otherwise your presentation could lose out to the latest goings-on of the Kardashian clan as bored attendees seek relief via their smartphones.

In keeping with general trends, respondents have mixed views on the benefits of technology in the workplace: 58 percent believe technology enables leaders to communicate with their teams easily and quickly, and nearly half cite its ability to enable flexible work from anywhere. However, 62 percent of women and 54 percent of men view technology as “overextending” leaders by making them too accessible. Majorities also agree that information overload (55 percent) and rapidly evolving technology (52 percent) are among the top challenges facing leaders today.


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Watching a Big Move to Help Women in Tech

A recent announcement by Facebook and LinkedIn that the two entities are joining forces to boost the dwindling numbers of women 462444481 -- women in techstudying technology and working in the field is certainly worth watching.

Short on a lot of details about the collaboration, the announcement still got an amazing amount of press because of the two parties involved — led, in part, by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

Sandberg has been a prominent advocate for women in the workplace, ever since her 2011 book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead came out. (Here is one of many pieces we’ve posted about her book and her premise that women need help fighting the barriers — some within themselves — that keep them from achieving leadership positions. Here is one other, primarily about her book and the “Lean In” support circles it aimed to spark in workplaces nationwide.)

As the first post quotes her from her book:

“We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in. [The result is that] men still run the world.”

Whether Sandberg and the people she’s working with think this inability to effect their own progress is a primary reason behind women’s dwindling numbers in technology studies and jobs isn’t real clear. Nor is it clear how much money each company is committing to this effort, or just how it will function. (The announcement simply says Sandberg and LinkedIn CEO Jeffrey Weiner will be “launching mentoring and support programs at colleges to get more women involved in studying technology in general, but also as future employees for their companies.”)

What is clear, though, is the fact that the talent pool is shrinking. According to the announcement, the percentage of people enrolled in undergraduate computer-science programs who are women peaked at 35 percent in 1985 and is now down to about 17 percent.

Clearly, something needs to be done. Will be interesting to see just what this initiative is and what it can do.

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Sizing Up Succession Management

successionIt’s a fact of corporate life, and it happens all the time: executives leave companies, just like employees at every other level do.

In fact, we’ve seen two CEOs depart from large, high-profile organizations in just the past nine days.

On Jan. 28, the Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. announced that CEO Don Thompson would retire at the end of February. That news came just two days after Mattel Inc.’s Bryan Stockton resigned from that company’s top post.

Both of those organizations looked within their own walls to replace erstwhile chief executives. Chief Brand Officer Steve Easterbrook will take the reins at McDonald’s, while  longtime Mattel board member Christopher Sinclair was named the El Segundo, Calif.-based toymaker’s chairman and interim CEO.

Korn Ferry’s new Succession Matters report suggests that most executives favor such an approach to executive succession; one that relies more on “building” (developing from within) than “buying” (hiring from the outside) when sourcing leadership talent.

More specifically, the poll of 1,009 C-level respondents found most executives reckoning the right mix of “build” versus “buy” should be 2:1. Nevertheless, close to half of the survey’s respondents—from companies ranging in size from 500 to more than 50,000 employees—said their organizations depended more on outside hires to fill leadership positions.

And, looking more broadly at succession management, it seems many executives have issues with their companies’ efforts that go beyond where they’re looking for C-level talent.

Overall, just 36 percent of executives said they were “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their company’s succession-management programs. Less than one-third (23 percent) reported having a solid pipeline of “ready now” candidates for leadership roles.

Part of the problem is that many succession-management programs “don’t go deep enough into an organization” in search of executive-caliber talent, says Jim Peters, lead for global succession management at Korn Ferry.

For example, the study finds 78 percent of executives saying their organization’s succession-management programs only include the title of “vice president” and above.

“I often say to CEOs: ‘There are several potential CEOs within your organization; you and many others at different levels in the leadership pipeline, with one being an individual contributor in Mumbai,’” says Peters. “[I ask these CEOs] ‘Do you know who she is? And if you know who she is, what would you do to ensure that she would have the skills and capabilities to lead the enterprise 15 or 20 years from now?’”

Building a “world-class” succession-management program requires integrating talent processes that make the whole “much greater than the sum of its parts,” adds RJ Heckman, president of Korn Ferry’s leadership and talent consulting business.

“Companies that do not have a ready supply of leaders leave talent processes separate and unintegrated,” says Heckman. “Recruiting is not related to performance, is not related to learning, is not related to succession … and lo and behold, you don’t have a ready slate of candidates when the proverbial emergency hits and you need candidates [for] senior positions.”

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