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When Executives Leave, Who Will Take Over?

As more and more of the Baby Boomer generation are retiring, businesses, including material handlingdistributorships, are left to face the most severe leadership shortage of our time. As a result, companies are investing more than ever before in recognizing the potential and developing the talent of their key executives. What they desperately need—and for too long have ignored—is a pool of talent that is ready to step in and move the organization forward.

In a Caliper survey, half of the participating companies expect to lose 50 percent or more of their senior management by 2010. With key positions left unfilled, an organization can find itself at a standstill, with decisions left unmade, problems left unsolved, and money being lost. To ease the transition of new management, it is important to create an effective succession plan. Here are five things companies can do.

Assess the business strategy and define leadership objectives. How has your business environment changed over the past few years? Are you anticipating that your company will experience tremendous growth in the near future? Will you have the leadership in place to oversee that development? These are just some important questions your top management needs to ask to assess your current and future business strategy. In doing so, a clear vision of your company’s competitive position in the marketplace will come into focus, and your management team will start to get a glimpse of the organization’s future leadership needs.

Develop the model for an integrated talent management system. To prepare future executives, it is important to determine what they will be called upon to do and what competencies they will need to succeed. Create a succession planning team made up of top leaders who can oversee the process. This team will need to establish program objectives and determine how success will be measured. If the goal is improving the hiring process for key leadership positions, then the team should observe how long it takes to fill open executive positions. The team should also be aware of executive “derailers,” traits that cause executives at any level to fail, including the inability to motivate others or build a team, indecisiveness or the tendency to take criticism too personally.

Assess and align the talent in the organization with its business strategy. In this step, you can begin to assess and identify people with leadership potential. To ensure the process is objective and to avoid overlooking individuals currently in non-management roles, assessments should be used along with information regarding an employee’s current performance. By reviewing all high-potential employees’ experience, organizational knowledge, behaviorally defined capabilities and personal attributes, and comparing individuals’ job performance with their leadership strengths, you can uncover which employees would be the best candidates.

Provide leadership feedback and development planning. Filling key positions from within an organization is often more desirable than bringing in an executive from the outside. In addition to providing talent growth and retention, employees feel valued and confident they have a future with the company. Therefore, it is crucial to facilitate a clear understanding of your organization’s leadership competencies and developmental needs to the executive team. You can achieve this through individual feedback and coaching, as well as providing each individual with a development plan. These plans, along with ongoing mentoring, will support your high-potential employees and help them reach your shared goals.

Implement, monitor, measure and report developmental strategies. Leadership development must be a continuous process. People can change their behavior and develop new skills when motivated and provided with the proper resources and support. Action learning is one method that brings together high-potential employees with various performance backgrounds to work on an urgent business problem. Their wide range of perspectives enables participants to move beyond their areas of specific expertise and address issues that they may not have faced before. Individual growth should be measured over time by re-administering performance feedback surveys in your material handling distributorship and re-assessing candidates based on the competency model that your succession planning team developed.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Patrick Sweeney

Meet the Author
Patrick Sweeney is executive vice president of Caliper, an international management consulting firm located in Princeton, New Jersey, and on the Web at www.calipercorp.com.

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