This post is an excerpt from the chapter 1 of Leaders Ready Now.
Whom Should You Accelerate?
Of course, acceleration can dramatically energize a culture, but that’s not its principal purpose. As we mentioned at the outset, the goal of making more leaders ready now is most urgent for those businesses imperiled by inadequate or insufficient leadership. For that reason, the fear that a new system will damage the culture must be answered with a clear business case and a strong communication plan to counter perceptions of exclusion. Leaders Ready Now will outline how to make that business case and how to make choices about whom to accelerate in a way that creates positive energy in the organization. Meanwhile, having gained a consensus that acceleration is a business necessity, you can anticipate at least some of the following general acceleration needs:
CEO and C-level acceleration: Naturally, having replacement plans in place for the CEO and members of the senior team is essential; nearly every organization with more than a handful of employees has considered the issue of succession, at least at the very top. But the replacement pool may be shallow, and again, the best way to ensure a strong succession plan is to set up an Acceleration Pool to develop and prepare potential replacements long before a position becomes vacant. Accelerating the growth of a small cadre of executives who can develop readiness for these critical roles is crucial to organizational stability and success.
Executive acceleration: The most common crisis that acceleration addresses is the absence of leaders capable of taking on executive level roles. Because the responsibilities and required skills in these roles increase so dramatically, the transition represents one of the most significant and challenging jumps in the career of any leader. And because the feeder pool for these roles is often stocked with individuals several levels below the necessary levels of capability and experience, failure is common, heightening the need for effective acceleration.
Mid-level leader acceleration: Some organizations also create pools that prepare individual contributors and frontline leaders to fill mid-management roles, where much of the organization’s execution energy resides and where many organizations have trouble building strength. Because population sizes are larger, these pools tend to be built and managed somewhat differently than executive-oriented pools, often with more cadre-based learning and growth options that equip leaders with core skills to apply to the challenges of mid-level leaders.
Global/Regional/Business unit acceleration: Multinational, multibusiness, or multidivisional organizations often establish pools for each unit to meet the needs of the separate groups. In some instances these disparate pools are managed totally independently of one another; others build in review sessions to create insight into talent across boundaries and to find opportunities to share and grow leaders who have awareness and capability across the enterprise.
Critical role-acceleration efforts: Not all acceleration efforts should focus on traditional leadership roles. Many key positions are technical or functional in nature or require a unique brand of creativity or insight that gives the organization a competitive edge. These positions might require special project leaders or innovators of new concepts, products, or methods. They might have typical leadership responsibilities, or their leadership might be more nontraditional (such as thought leadership) or lateral. Acceleration efforts should target these roles as well and take a pool or individualized approach based on the nature of the role and size of the group. For example, one global social services organization established an Acceleration Pool for its Country Manager position. In another case, a technology firm cultivated the development of three high-potential players for the role of Product-Design Executive—a highly creative role without traditional leadership responsibility
Given that not everyone can (or wants to) be a leader, generating more leaders ready now requires you and your senior team to determine which individuals and groups will be the focus of your acceleration investments. Executives must make difficult choices about whom to accelerate and when. Some organizations struggle with this basic point of departure, maintaining that differential development is harmful to the culture because it excludes some people from participating. This point of view is a nonstarter, because acceleration is not an investment in the culture; it is an investment in the business.
Matthew J. Paese, Ph.D., is Vice President of Succession and C-Suite Services for Development Dimensions International (DDI). Matt’s work has centered on the application of succession, assessment, and development approaches as they apply to boards, CEOs, senior management teams, and leaders across the pipeline. He consults, coaches, speaks, and conducts research around all those topics and more.
Audrey B. Smith, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President for Global Talent Diagnostics at DDI. Audrey’s customer-driven innovation and global consulting insights have helped shape DDI’s succession, selection, and development offerings, from the C-suite to the front line. She has been a key strategist and solution architect, encompassing technology-enabled virtual assessments and development aligned to current business challenges.
William C. Byham, Ph.D., is Executive Chairman of DDI. He cofounded the company in 1970 and has worked with hundreds of the world’s largest organizations on executive assessment, executive development, and succession management. Bill authored Zapp!® The Lightning of Empowerment, a groundbreaking book that has sold more than 3 million copies. He has coauthored 23 other books, including seminal works on the assessment center method.