Unfortunately, many of the proposed best practices for identifying successor talent are stated in a ambiguous manner, e.g., stretch targets or leadership soft skills. While they may sound good on paper, identifying that talents that are critical to your industry, customers and business itself requires careful analysis of the current situation and a methodology to justify your succession decisions. Of course, these factors and criteria will not be the same for every business, and no consultant or expert will be able to offer you a one-size-fits-all solution. With this is mind, it’s useful to review literature examples or other companies’ solutions and then tailor them to fit your needs.
When identifying the particular set of leadership skills for which you’d like to test, set clear targets and define unambiguous criteria for candidates to fulfill. Here are some examples:
- Define your own criteria to define what constitutes a “stretch project” or leadership opportunity for a candidate at a particular level in the business. Then, measure how often candidates specifically ask to be involved in such projects and track their success rates over time. Such a metric would give HR managers a concrete dataset to evaluate a candidate’s willingness to lead and develop themselves.
- Run multiple crisis scenarios at irregular intervals, e.g. every 2 or 3 months. Scenarios should be unique during each test to allow companies to observe how candidates develop over time. The tests should be graded with a combination or quantitative and qualitative criteria, e.g., response time, financial impact or calmness when dealing with the situation.
- Track personal responsibility events. Although it may sound trite, measure how often candidates attempt to push their failures or mistakes on to other team members. This can give HR managers a powerful look into someone’s true personality.
- Measure a candidate’s commitment to the business. This can be a difficult task to accomplish with metrics, but an easier task with mentors. Although completely qualitative in nature, a mentor’s assessment of a candidate’s commitment to the business can be priceless in determining their future success.
- Openness and propensity for innovation. Change is the only constant—while it sounds like a cheap cliché, it happens to be the rule for modern businesses. HR managers should spend time in brainstorming sessions and board meetings to track how often candidates create and foster innovative ideas or processes. For instance, a candidate who constantly shoots down ideas which are not his/her own would be considered a warning flag for the future.
While this article has merely scratched the surface of thousands of possible criteria, the moral is in the details. Judging successor talent on qualitative factors alone will result in grey decision making that only the jury can understand. Be creative and come up with specific criteria for your business that can measure soft factors like openness or personal responsibility. While it may not be the only basis for your successor decisions, it will serve as a starting point and a clear method for comparing candidates.