June 2011



Succession Planning is Not Just Succession Planning

Succession planning is a hot topic.

It is not surprising why. Organizations facing three challenging demographic realities:

  • In North America and Europe, large numbers of the baby boomer bubble are nearing retirement. In fact, January of 2011 was a record month for retirements for one of my clients.
  • In growing Asian markets there is a dearth of capable middle management talent.
  • Top-notch talent is being heavily recruited.

What is surprising is the wide variety of definitions of and approaches to success planning.

On one end of the spectrum, succession planning is seen as a process for identifying internal people with the potential to fill key leadership positions. The focus is on creating back-up lists, mostly by managers nominating candidates from their departments. The problem with this approach is that research shows that the hit rate on backup lists is very low – about 15%. Not a very effective use of time and resources.

I prefer a much more encompassing definition and approach to succession planning, something more akin to true workforce planning and development.

My definition: Succession Planning is a deliberate and systematic effort to identify leadership requirements, identify pools of high-potential candidates at all levels, accelerate the development of mission-critical leadership competencies in the candidates through intentional development, select leaders from the candidate pools for pivotal roles and then, regularly measure progress.

The basis for the definition is what is required for the time and resources invested in "succession planning" to create a business impact. The result of succession planning as defined here is a pipeline of promotable or expandable talent that is future-focused and driving the strategy.

How does your company define succession planning?

To learn more, see (Succession Planning is Not Just Succession Planning)

Return to Top

How to Waste Tons of Money on Training

It's happened again . . . I think for the third time this year.

The HR department of a large organization contacted me. They have an annual training event that managers in the company are required to attend. However, attendance at the event has been dropping off, leaders are not requiring their managers to attend and few people are applying the stuff they were supposed to learn.

The HR department was looking for something different to offer so that the company would feel better about spending all that money. Usually, the company executives would tell HR what they wanted in the annual conference and then HR would go out and find it. This year, no one had any ideas on what should be featured.

Their question to me: What could they offer that would improve attendance and that would get used?

My answer: "Nothing"

I told them they are asking the wrong question. The issue is not what they are offering but why they are doing an annual conference in the first place and what business impact they are expecting. They should start with a critical business result and build something from there.

My response flummoxed the HR folks. They were used to implementing something that the executives thought was needed. I was suggesting that they stop being an implementer and begin acting like a performance consultant. That required doing things like building a business case, clearly clarifying the need, identifying skills gaps and selecting the best method to address the gaps. Otherwise, they could just continue to waste gobs of money on an all-hands-on-deck event that was training-for-training's-sake, not training for a specific business impact.

They didn't know how to do what I was suggesting. They concluded that what they really needed was a motivational keynote address. I told them I could do that for an exorbitant amount of money. They're thinking about.

So, if you want to waste as much money as possible on training:

  • Do not build a clear business case for the investment
  • Make it mandatory, no matter the individual learner's need
  • Evaluate the training by how many seats you fill
  • Do training that someone tells you to do
  • Don't worry about getting the learner's manager on board
  • Assume that one-size-fits-all. Do not offer a wide range of development options
  • Ignore the fact that key leadership skills are built from challenging roles and assignments, not classroom instruction.

To learn more about remedies for low impact training, see The Best Way to Waste Money on Training

Return to Top

What Makes A Great Company © 2011 PJ Pilot Inc.

By Peter Berner
Pilot Workplace Advisors

Most people address the "Great Company" from one of two distinct positions, depending on which side of the executive suite you sit on.

Owners and other Senior Execs usually hear it as an external question, "Are the indicators of performance great?"

Most others hear the question internally: "Is this a great place to work"?

So "great" to the shareholder, passive investor, CEO or Senior Executive is often weighted towards a sense of external accomplishment and measurable results. Other managers and individual contributors often see results as secondary to their sense of adding value, sharing in a purpose, being respected, and personal fulfillment, which they would see as key to a "great company".

A Great Company will harmonize these two seemingly opposing perspectives. It can do so by recognizing that the perspectives have the same root cause:


A Great Company is one where all stakeholders are fully invested; and

People will only become fully invested when their self-interests are being met.

Self-interests can be financial, emotional, social, organizational, personal, spiritual, or behavioral. Thus, the more an investor's return is enhanced (self-interest met) the more likely she is to invest more capital (financial, emotional, social, etc.) in the enterprise; enhancing her sense of the greatness of the company.

The more that the janitor's need to feel secure and be respected is enhanced (self-interest met), the more likely he is to invest more energy and commitment to the enterprise; enhancing his sense that he is working for a great company.

Greatness is impossible when one of these two masters is served at the expense of the other- leader's interests vs. employee's interests.

The problem lies in the faulty assumption that the self-interests of owners or management are the same as the self-interest of the rank and file. They are usually not; despite the flowing language of the corporate mission statement in the front lobby!

Employees often see their leaders as woefully absorbed in their own self-interests (which are usually perceived as financial). Worse still is that many leaders are, in fact, woefully self-absorbed in their own self-interests.

Likewise, leaders often see their employees through a lens of entitlement and parochial self-interest; beating or abusing the system selfishly at the expense of organizational accomplishment. The perception is often justified. Every employee has rubbed shoulders with a co-worker who has gamed the system for personal gain.

Great Companies recognize that at every point in the organizational food chain people are making investment decisions based on their own (hopefully enlightened) self-interests. Great Companies have leaders who understand this and can manage to these multiple interests. To do this successfully they must:

  1. Have a clear and compelling Vision of where they are taking the company and an equally compelling strategy to get there.
  2. Create the optimal environmental conditions, organizational structures and management policies that accommodate the widest possible attention to individual and group self-interests.
  3. Attract and hire people who are compelled by this vision and strategy and want to be a part of it (not just those who can execute against it).
  4. Set strategy and plan aggressively against organizational competency (existing or prospective); not against ownership/management self-interest.
  5. Make sure every employee can link what they do and how it contributes to the achievement of that vision. Insist that people know "Why we do things around here".
  6. Weed out those whose self-interests are destructive or cannot be met within the limitations of your organization before they destroy you (through disengagement, sabotage, or non-performance).
  7. Hold everyone accountable for their end of the bargain.

Most people, most of the time will act in ways that are completely compatible with their self-interests. The investor, whose interest in financial returns is not being met, is not likely to invest more in the enterprise if negative trends continue. The CFO who wants to be CEO of the company is not likely to invest more in the organization once she discovers that she is no longer a candidate for that position. The competent single parent who needs flexibility to work at home or on a varied schedule will not invest more time and talent in an environment that forces "face time" and appearances over outcomes and accountability. Great Companies are built around people with common goals, and they are expert at managing the organization to the widest array of individual self-interest.

Peter Berner is an author, Executive Coach and the President of Pilot Workplace Advisors, a Pittsburgh, PA based Human Resources Development firm offering organizations the tools to manage the intensity and velocity of today's workplace challenges. www.pilotworkplace.com

Contact Peter Berner at: [email protected] or 412 928 2058

Return to Top