One of the key steps in succession planning is creating the right kind of development programs for future leaders of the company. Programs need to be well-conceived and properly tailored to the individual skills required to be successful in a particular position.
Fluor Corporation, the largest construction company in the Fortune 500, believes that the development programs for its succession candidates should be 70 percent experiential, 20 percent coaching, and 10 percent classroom or other training. They, like many companies, recognize that hands-on experience – as opposed to a lot of seminars or training courses – offers the greatest developmental value for their succession candidates.
Experiential development can take on a number of forms, from formal on-the-job training programs to making a high potential employee the head of a small division of the company. The key is to provide the opportunity to experience the demands, pressures, and responsibilities of the particular position for which the individual is being groomed, in a lower-risk environment where decision-making can be closely monitored and any missteps will have minimal impact on the company.
Another experiential alternative is to assign a succession candidate to a key initiative or to lead a project. This provides upper management with a firsthand opportunity to observe the candidate’s leadership and decision-making skills. In addition, short-term job rotations – while sometimes difficult to orchestrate – can provide a candidate with the opportunity to work in different departments and gain an understanding of the various challenges and opportunities of each.
Coaching and mentoring are also an important part of candidate development. Many companies promote mentor programs which afford the opportunity for one-on-one time with senior executives. Some task key executives with grooming their successors and use the executives’ performance evaluations to monitor their progress. Young executive groups, where peers discuss each other’s issues and concerns, are another coaching and mentoring type of opportunity that many find to be extremely helpful.
Outside courses and seminars such as leadership training programs and degree programs (such as MBAs) can be helpful in grooming high potential individuals. But while these programs should represent at least some part of the overall development process, companies should not make them the primary emphasis. The reality is that nothing replaces experience.
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