Professional interview with male and female attendees

Who is talent and who is not – what then?

A few years ago, as I was sitting in interviews with a few senior managers as part of an interview panel selecting new recruits that had graduated from university and were looking for internship opportunities.

I noticed a sense of apprehension from the candidates thinking as to whether they would fit in this “corporate jungle” with its distinctive culture and never having worked before. Being millennials at the time I’m sure they were thinking why are there not more of our own age group attending this interview as panelists and onboarding new talent? On the other hand, I had spoken to the senior managers before the interviews, received a clearly defined job specification, and asked them what they were looking for in new staff. I distinctly got the impression everything they said spoke to the way we operate around here and looking for more of “us” as if that is the only definition of future success . This made me think why these managers never remarked on who would be running this company in 2030 and beyond when they have retired or moved on and what does that leadership team need to look like? Succession planning did not seem like an important priority at the time despite their long history and accepted brand in the marketplace, which I might add, implied that there were many “unwritten rules” to acceptance in this company. It also speaks to what about the lack of future planning should critical staff working in critical roles leave the company, how will this be dealt with?

This leads to the importance of HR’s role in driving the right messages with line managers in not only sourcing and onboarding correctly but also ensuring that we don’t just recruit more of the same but rather focus on what the business strategy is now and in the foreseeable future and to what extent do we have the right talent to match that and retain it! The conversations need to focus on the psychological contract between the employer and employee and what each’s expectations are. We also need to look at what is regarded as key and critical jobs in the business and do we have the right people in these roles, skills requirements in the next 5 years not only qualifications and experience, office space/layout, and how conducive is it to optimal productivity and work success, hybrid working models based on the requirements of the job or project, reviewing outdated employment contracts and benefits that seemed appropriate in the past, more collaborative leadership styles where its ok to disagree with your boss, emotional and cultural intelligence assessments and programs as business tools which not only forms part of recruitment but also the ongoing development of people.

Skills acquisitions coupled with different generations joining the workforce will force companies to think beyond the workplace as it’s always been, and rather how can we best recruit for the future, onboard new talent with a welcoming approach even before they commence work and an inclusive culture that is based on mutual respect making this place, I work in a great place to be . What a great testimonial for customers and clients having an engaged staff. People also need to become accustomed to change and have tools to deal with it. The counter to all of this is a workforce that progressively disengages and results in talent leaving and those that cannot find other jobs doing only the minimum and making it difficult to have a good relationship with.

The role in finalising a succession planning process that works is understanding the balance between HR that provides the business with tools that minimize bias, focuses on objective perforce criteria, and looks to developing staff with future potential. A good example of this is the 9-box talent assessment grid which is a tool that is easy to understand and apply as it plots talent in one of the 9 boxes based on previous and current performance and suitability to the business requirements. It also allows the leadership team to then engage and agree as to the final rating which then is noted and monitored over time. The grid eliminates subjectivity and the halo effect and forces leaders to stratify their staff and ensure they have high performers combined with high potential working in key and critical roles in the business. It will also mean that the HIPO’s each have an IDP (Individual Development Plan ) and possibly coaches and mentors to ensure each plan is individualised as well as the message to the staff member that their ongoing development and contribution is important. This tool is also good to combine with psychometrics like an EQ assessment and a 360-review process to get a holistic picture of the talent the business needs to develop and retain.

A critical link in identifying internal talent is also looking outside the organisation if the current internal pool is not adequate or suitable. This is applied if the vacant role has a scarce skill linked to it that skill/s does not exist internally or the gap between this role and the next level is too large and poses a risk to the business. In South Africa, sectoral Employment Equity targets and BBBEEE requirements also play a role in that having a vault of good external EE candidates will prove to be a good idea when it comes to onboarding and retaining equity staff.

Let’s also not forget that to make this work it requires line management taking ownership with HR business partners playing critical facilitation and advisory role to ensure succession planning is reviewed annually or when critical roles become vacant.

My final thoughts on this are that when I undertake something as important as succession planning I shall ensure I understand the dynamics around the needs of the business not only today but in the next 3 – 5 years, the company culture, the current leadership team composition, the generations employed in the company and how we best navigate the baby boomers and generation x’s to coaching and mentoring the Millennials and Gen Z‘s to the benefit of both – a huge challenge indeed but one that will see the company rise above its competitors and be regarded as an employer of choice in the industry it operates in.    

Article by: Andre Willemse

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