The term sustainability is typically associated with issues such as natural resource depletion, recycling, or other matters of environmental stewardship. To fulfill its social responsibility, however, a company must first endure its own survival. In Getting Green Done, Auden Schendler defines sustainability as “being in business forever.” Achieving this requires long-term planning; the most fundamental plan required defines how the company will attract and develop the talented people necessary to operate the business profitably and responsibly in future generations.
Recognizing the importance of planning for continued strong leadership, 85% of executives say they are not confident in their leadership pipelines. Yet, despite the knowledge that leadership development is a critical success factor, an incredible 61% of companies provide no leadership training to their employees. With little to no attention paid to leadership potential, executives and managers are often left to fill vacancies with their “best guesses” while under pressure to restore productivity.
As a result of this situation, it is unlikely that the current hiring managers have received any leadership training, causing a lack of insight that further exacerbates the difficulty of evaluating others. Hiring and promotion decisions are, therefore, typically of low quality. In fact, Gallup, Inc. research indicates that 82% of candidates hired for managerial positions lack the talent necessary for success in such roles. Imagine the impact on your business of any process that is properly executed only 18% of the time!
Succession planning for leadership roles can be done completely in-house, though with some risk. The potential remains for existing managers to evaluate more positively those candidates that are “like them,” or subordinates they consider loyal. This effort can be a façade used to justify the decisions made under the “best guess” scheme, allowing managers to save face and secure their legacy. If the current management team members have received similarly deficient levels of leadership training, it is unlikely that the collective insight of this group will be sufficient to properly evaluate the next generation of leaders. An independent analysis may be a wise investment. A number of sources exist; choosing one requires an evaluation process all its own, though it will not be detailed here.
Whether leadership potential is evaluated and developed internally, or by contracted specialists, it should become a regular topic of discussion among executives and managers. Strategic visions have little value if the talent required to execute the company’s plans are not considered in those plans.
Evaluation schemes are numerous and diverse. Gallup, Inc. uses “five talent dimensions” in its “scientific approach to identify high-potential leaders.” Author and motivational speaker Brian Tracy defines his “Top 7 Leadership Qualities & Attributes of Great Leaders.” Harvard Business Review articles list the “Top 10 Leadership Competencies, Grouped into Five Themes” and “The Eight Archetypes of Leadership.” The list goes on. And on.
Choosing, or developing, a leadership evaluation scheme can be a significant undertaking. Many of them use differing terminology to relate similar concepts. A recurring theme in leadership discussions – and, arguably, the most fundamental requirement of a successful manager – is engagement. Again, definitions will vary slightly, but the core of engagement is this: the employee is conscientious about the quality of his/her work, cares about the company and its goals, and gives a full effort, even going “above and beyond” when it is needed; the opposite of apathy.
The level of engagement exhibited by employees, in large part, mirrors that of their supervisor or manager. Thus, an engaged manager creates a “trickle-down” effect that benefits the organization beyond the manager’s direct contribution. According to one author and consultant, “[w]hen supervisors and managers are more engaged, a 20% labor efficiency improvement can be achieved.”
An engaged manager, as a direct result of his/her genuine enthusiasm, is more likely to exhibit many behaviors widely accepted as characteristic of effective leaders. For example, engaged managers demonstrate an interest in subordinates’ well-being and professional development, investing in training and wellness initiatives. Engaged managers play an active role in evaluating, hiring, and onboarding new employees. Most importantly, engaged managers create a culture that rewards quality, continuous improvement, and ethical behavior.
Choosing the ideal candidate for a leadership position is more difficult without an objective evaluation process in place. There is a simple way, however, to improve the evaluation of candidates while this structure is being developed. That is, at the very least, the quality of the “best guess” can be improved significantly.
The generic question “will this person be a good leader or manager?” has a number of elements hidden within it and is often a proxy for “is this person like me?” Instead, replace it with a series of more focused questions that reveal specific details about the candidate’s potential. Some examples include:
Does this person exhibit a long-term performance mindset?
Does this person set a desirable example of attitude, teamwork, etc.?
Does this person volunteer for assignments?
Does this person take advantage of development opportunities?
Does this person help others improve performance?
Does this person express visionary or innovative ideas to improve the business?
Does this person embrace personal, fiscal, and social responsibility?
Does this person demonstrate an understanding of the trade-offs inherent in business decisions?
The list of questions will vary according to the position to be filled; higher-level positions will likely require a more extensive set of questions. It will be easier to answer these for internal candidates with whom you’ve interacted regularly. Distilling the necessary information from external candidates will rely more heavily on creative interview techniques. Techniques used for both internal and external candidates should be considered in the formal evaluation process chosen.
Although this discussion has focused on providing talent pipelines for leadership positions, other roles are equally important; all functional areas must be adequately staffed at all times. As people leave the company for various reasons, or the business grows, plans should be in place to maintain the required level of productivity. Skilled trades, unskilled labor, engineering, sales and marketing, human resources, and everyone else, has important roles to play in ensuring the company’s success. Thus, each role, position, or department deserves the attention required to develop a succession plan.
In order to be environmentally conscious, a business must first be economically viable. Economic viability depends on robust supplies of talent in a variety of areas. A focused effort on succession planning will allow your business to fulfill its fiscal and social obligations for generations to come.
 Getting Green Done, Auden Schendler, 2010 [Link], referenced in Rich Maltzman’s PMXPO 2018 presentation “The Conundrum: Your Project Ends, But Its Outcome Lives On.”
 “Developing Employees into Leaders,” Lindsay Thomson, LinkedIn Learning [Link]
 “State of the American Manager,” Gallup, Inc. 2015 [Link]
 “Assessing Leadership Talent,” Gallup, Inc. 2009 [Link]
 “The Top 7 Leadership Qualities & Attributes of Great Leaders,” Brian Tracy [Link]
 “The Most Important Leadership Competencies, According to Leaders Around the World,” Harvard Business Review, March 15, 2016 [Link]
 “The Eight Archetypes of Leadership,” Harvard Business Review, December 18, 2013 [Link]
 “Leaders in Waiting,” Plant Services, October 2017 [Link] [Link] [Link]
Jody W. Phelps, MSc, PMP®, MBA
JayWink Solutions, LLC
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