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A Perspective on Leadership Readiness

Leadership ReadinessBy Chuck Cosentino, Ph.D.

Living on the Fault Line

The pressure is mounting on HR leaders and their teams to do more with less, demonstrate ROI, and keep pace with a rapidly changing business landscape. Now, it is more critical than ever for them to plan and execute leadership programs and initiatives that have a positive impact on their organization and its leaders.

Over the past 35 years, I’ve had the good fortune to work with many outstanding leaders in major multinational companies and alongside many exceptional colleagues. They have asked me to reflect on my most significant learnings and experiences related to leadership readiness. The result is an approach that stakeholders and users have found most valuable in yielding positive results for leaders and their organizations. Additionally, the value of these approaches has been proven through client testimonials, program evaluation studies, and research.

7 Best Practices for Leadership Readiness
This guidebook will show you how to avoid the dangers that HR leaders fall victim to, and deliver substantial value for your organization, leaders, and culture.

Sharing what to do is as important as knowing what not to do. I refer to the latter as dangers that lead to failure and should be avoided. They are dangerous because they are approaches that have positive impact in many situations yet in other situations they have negative impact which is often not initially apparent or anticipated. They appear face valid and their negative impact is not anticipated, which are the very things that make them dangerous. Here is an example: For individuals and organizations, applying what worked in the past in certain situations often leads to positive results. Yet in times of substantial changes in responsibilities, relying on past behaviors and actions may not be effective. In the world of leadership capability-building I discuss where I believe these dangers lie and approaches that HR senior leaders and their teams have used to avoid dangers and thereby yield substantial value for their organizations, leaders, and culture.

Don’t look back. Be future-oriented and align with the business landscape.

No business can survive without a focus on the future—the same is true for HR. The business landscape is rapidly changing and evolving due to factors such as technology advances, the rise of social media, globalization, new competitors with different and compelling value propositions, and changes in workforce demographics and values (e.g., retiring baby boomers and the growing impact of millennials). This new business landscape has substantially changed the blueprint for leadership success and reshaped leadership programs, both in terms of content and the increased use of more technology-enabled delivery strategies.

In today’s “VUCA” (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world, the array of leadership skills and behaviors that enable leaders across levels to be successful is substantially different than it was in the past. The challenges that accompany the VUCA environment have made it more difficult for leaders to identify critically needed changes in direction, strategy, and tactics. The methods and techniques they use to gain these insights have changed, too. Given an increasingly mobile and networked workforce, the skills needed to keep employees engaged and confident in the organization’s future success are different than those required in the past—and increasingly important.

Over time, HR’s role has moved from gatekeeper to change agent. HR must be aware of the business landscape, including the necessities of both global consistency and the need to adapt to local culture. This altered landscape affects the leadership blueprint for success as well as what is designed and/or purchased, and how it is delivered. Being aware of new requirements and approaches is not enough, however. HR also needs to be able to carefully evaluate the utility and impact of new approaches, as approaches that are cheaper and faster are not always better. Often, making solutions easier to access yields much better results than using low-cost solutions that negatively affect quality of results.

Identify fault lines in career paths that represent the greatest risks for leaders.

Fault lines are transition points in leadership careers where leaders cannot be successful if they rely only on skills and behaviors they used successfully in the past. If this is done, the risk of failure is more likely. During these “fault line” transitions, success can prove more elusive and, as a result, stress on the leader is greater. Failure can impact the leader’s reputation and confidence, lower his or her level of engagement, and even result in resignation.

In decisions involving these critical transition points in leadership careers (hiring, promotion, succession, and accelerated development decisions), management often makes selection mistakes by relying only on candidates’ past track records and loyalty—a focus that commonly produces good outcomes but not when transitions are the selection issue. Loyalty and past accomplishment should be rewarded but they are not sufficient to make the best possible decisions about potential and readiness for a transition.

Among the fault line transitions that are most stressful and risky for leaders and their organizations are: moving from an individual contributor role to leading, coaching, and motivating others; transitioning from a role requiring working through others to having responsibility for developing tactics and plans for enabling elements of strategy; moving from a role that entails executing strategy to one requiring formulating strategy; and moving from a strategy-development role to that of a C-level enterprise guardian.

These transitions require growth to be successful. When making these transitions, leaders need to acquire new skills and knowledge while achieving greater proficiency in their existing skills. They need greater awareness of their personal dispositions that enable their success, and approaches to managing the personal dispositions that may derail their success if they are not actively managed. For example, behaviors that some leaders exhibit in an effort to appear confident may be perceived by others as arrogant. Greater self-awareness and insights can help leaders navigate the difficulties of transitions when these derailers are present. Similarly, managers need better and more relevant information to make selection decisions that accurately predict potential and readiness, and accelerate the targeted leaders’ development.

Analyze business challenges to create blueprints for leader success.

Create blueprints that focus on the business and cultural challenges leaders are likely to face in their organization at each career transition (the fault lines). Blueprints for leadership success are most useful when they are defined in behavioral terms—the “how to” of leadership behavior. Blueprints should also include experiences, knowledge, and personal attributes critical to success. Once developed, these blueprints become invaluable roadmaps for leaders, selection decision-makers, and those responsible for leadership programs. Avoid these two common mistakes, however, when it comes to leadership blueprints:

  1. Oversimplifying. Don’t assume the same blueprint for success fits all levels. Such an all-encompassing model is likely to be confusing and miss the mark for setting expectations for leaders at various levels and those responsible for leadership programs. For example, inspiring others depends in part on a leader’s level of responsibility. First-level leaders inspire others by how they communicate in individual and team interactions. Executives, meanwhile, inspire others not only through their interactions but also through the programs they shape and support, and through their broader communication around vision.
  2. Overthinking. It’s true that “analysis leads to paralysis.” Expending large amounts of time and resources to study the differences in every leadership position can result in the models being outdated before they are even finished. They are so exhaustive and detailed they offer little guidance in developing leadership programs that can have positive impact at leader career transitions where they are critically needed.

    To define relevant and impactful blueprints for leadership success, context is crucial. It is critical to understand the specifics of the business, fully grasp the competitive and cultural challenges that leaders face, and gain an in-depth understanding of how specific challenges impact leader blueprints for success at each level (key transitions). Every organization faces a combination of common and unique challenges. Some organizations are challenged by rapid growth. Others need to contain costs or innovate more rapidly. An organization’s business and cultural challenges will need to shape the blueprint for leadership success across leadership levels and transition points. Career transitions are the major source of blueprint differences for leaders across the organization.

Here are the four most critical steps in defining a leadership blueprint relevant to your business context and critical career transitions (the fault lines). With the right planning these blueprints can be developed in a few months or less.

  1. Focus on understanding the business
    HR leaders should engage successful line managers in discussing the business challenges they face. Line leaders live the business challenges, and can describe implications for what leaders at various levels need to do to enable the organization’s future success. These discussions of business challenges can focus on a specific unit or function, or the entire enterprise. During these discussions, HR leaders should also share insights about the VUCA world and their implications for leadership talent practices.
  2. Place immediate business issues in a broader context
    Ensure the discussion does not focus only on one specific issue or challenge that is immediate and urgent. This leads to “flavor of the month” programs that fail to fully address all critical business challenges. Programs with a narrow focus on an immediate problem can prove costly, disruptive, and, all too soon, outdated. For example, when there is critical change in business focus or a new sales approach is introduced, organizations may spend valuable resources on developing skills related to leading and managing change and may neglect building skills for coaching and delegation at lower levels, and skills for building organizational talent and establishing and executing business strategy at higher levels. Over time the limitations of a singular focus are revealed and found to be inadequate, especially for leaders new to a transition. I have experienced too many conversations with prospects that begin with, “Last year we had to focus on _____. This year we will need to focus on _______. Therefore, we need to revamp our (assessment and development) programs.” This is a very costly way to operate. Immediate problems need to be dealt with but in the context of a blueprint that addresses all of the major challenges.
  3. Focus on line leaders' true expertise
    An organization’s line leaders are not experts in defining leadership competencies. They are, however, experts in the business challenges the organization’s leaders must address. This makes it important to avoid asking line managers to define the needed leadership skills. The result often is blueprints that are directionally correct but fail to provide the “How to”—the key behaviors that enable leader success. What’s more, these blueprints are typically too vague to guide the direction of leadership programs. Also, it’s wise to avoid asking line leaders to pick from a list of competencies. This often leads to an unworkably large number of competencies, and the resulting blueprint will lack clear links to critical business and cultural strategies and challenges.
  4. Be an expert in the "how's"
    Use the information obtained from line leaders about business and cultural challenges to develop leadership blueprints that have a workable number of competencies, personal attributes, and the most role-relevant knowledge and experiences. The competencies clearly define the “how to” of the leadership needed at critical career transitions to ensure future success.  Leadership blueprints linked to an organization, function, or business unit’s business and cultural challenges help immensely in demonstrating to all stakeholders—from executive sponsors to participants—the value of investments in leadership programs.

In many organizations I have found that when these analyses are done across multiple levels a cascading set of blueprints identifying critical similarities and differences across levels can be created. This is immensely valuable in targeting more strategic and impactful HR investments. Such blueprints yield integrated leadership programs that work in concert to accelerate growth that makes a real difference in enabling leader success more rapidly and effectively when growth is most critically needed. When working in concert, leadership capability-building programs and activities can make a critical difference in an organization's success.

Don’t develop all leaders equally. Invest disproportionately in assessment and development programs to mitigate fault-line risks.

Unlike fault lines in nature, it is possible to reduce the risks associated with potentially disruptive career transitions. Being successful in a leadership transition involves “playing a different game on a new field of play.” New skills are required, as well as greater proficiency in some existing ones. Those making selection decisions (e.g., hiring, promotion, succession, and acceleration decisions) can have difficulty predicting a candidate’s preparedness for a career transition and determining what actions need to be taken to enhance readiness. Some selection decision-makers lack a full understanding of the inherent difficulty in succeeding in a transition and underestimate the risks to both the business and the individual leader’s success. Other decision-makers lack a full awareness of how the “game” has changed since they occupied lower-level positions. Without better information and insights about a candidate's potential and readiness or a full awareness of fault line risks, these decision-makers place too much weight on the individual leaders’ loyalty and past accomplishments.

Some decision makers favor those who think and act similar to themselves or those with whom they are most familiar. (The latter is more of an issue with candidates for low-level leader transitions.) Research has also shown that selection decision-makers are commonly over-confident in the opinions they form about others. This can lead them to discount data that is inconsistent with their views. Perhaps worst of all is the fact that decision-makers are often not fully aware of how much all of these sources of potential bias influence their decision making.

"There’s a world that we always forget ‘til it moves us… So unaware of the changes that’s around…Living on the fault line… No one can run when it finally comes down… Nobody knows what is stirrin’ underground…"

The Doobie Brothers

Most candidates cannot envision how they will function in a role that they have never experienced. Many individuals are overconfident and overestimate their readiness. Some are self-promoting. Others underestimate their readiness and are overly cautious about making a leadership career transition. Many personality traits affect these inaccurate self-assessments. Research suggests that gender plays a role, with men more commonly falling into the “overly self-confident” category.

These inaccurate self-assessments are exacerbated by a paucity of feedback. In most organizations leaders receive a lot of feedback on results and accomplishments but receive little feedback on the impact on others of their leadership behaviors. Inaccurate self-assessments and lack of feedback can also lead to poor career choices and to too little learning tension and engagement in development programs. This, in turn, results in little growth and behavior change. Over the long term, pools of candidates shaped by the factors mentioned above can cause organizations to not fully develop and deploy their real talent.

When transitioning leaders are a poor fit with their new roles or the skills required to succeed in a transition there can be negative consequences. Direct reports complain about the leader’s micromanaging, lack of direction, low degree of empathy, and other unproductive behaviors. The managers of these transitioning leaders, meanwhile, complain about failures to drive needed changes and results. These concerns commonly relate to transitioning leaders doing what they did in the past rather than “stepping up to the plate” and playing at a new level.

When individuals who are a poor fit or aren’t ready for a career transition are promoted they are likely to experience stress, blows to their reputations, poor results and dissatisfied customers and direct reports. The combination of absence of foresight by decision-makers and lack of growth by leaders creates opportunities for personal and business risks to gain hold of decision-makers and leaders who have no accurate way to estimate the “dangerous” events that lie ahead. This is where HR can play a particularly valuable and unique role in the success of the organizations and its leaders by providing critically important programs that mitigate fault-line risk and accelerate leader growth. I have frequently seen the problems described here plague organizations in a wide variety of regions and markets.

As explained in the 2016 book Leaders Ready Now, there are distinct differences between potential, readiness, and performance (see the definitions below). Failure to understand these differences and use programs that can effectively measure them is often the underlying reason why so many organizations are concerned about the poor impact of acceleration programs and the resulting accuracy of their promotion and succession decisions. While strong performance in one's current position should be a key criterion for selecting leadership candidates, a fundamental problem with the over-reliance on performance when making transition decisions is that performance (success in a current role) is very different from readiness for a higher-level role that requires different skills, motivations, and personal attributes. Much more accurate and reliable information and insights can be obtained through inventories and simulations that assess readiness for transition. Use of these tools makes it possible to overcome the common tendency for decision-makers to over-emphasize results, knowledge, and experiences while under-emphasizing the importance of competencies and attributes.

Strong performance (results and competencies) along with assessment of leadership potential (the motivation and ability to succeed in a transition) should be the major determinants of who should have access to accelerated development for career transitions. Improving the quality of the pool ensures that investments in leader acceleration will pay off with fully ready leaders available to timely meet all talent needs. Research has shown that unstructured manager judgments have little accuracy in assessing potential. At high levels potential is best measured through a structured evaluation process of the key elements of potential established through research. This structured process is best completed by individual managers and discussed by a panel of managers making the decisions regarding access to acceleration. At lower levels where awareness of the challenges of leadership are less known by candidates, and candidates are not well-known by managers, self- insight assessments of potential completed by aspiring candidates is an excellent way to improve the accuracy of these critical decisions and ensure that leaders will be able to succeed in career transitions after accelerated development.

The degree of an individual’s success in executing objectives and competencies required in the current role.

One’s fit with a specific role, job, or job family.

The likelihood an individual can/will grow into a successful leader or into a role with significantly expanded leadership responsibilities.

Assessment that simulates the new challenges a leader is likely to face at the next level provides better and more targeted data with which to take action to address relevant gaps and capitalize on individual and group strengths. Assessment data forms the basis of more focused and impactful development plans and improves placement decisions. Assessment that includes inventories provides valuable information on personal attributes that are “hard wired” and are not likely to be altered by training. Inventories, when properly interpreted by trained professionals, increase awareness of personal attributes that enhance performance as well as those attributes that, if not proactively managed, can unintentionally derail leaders. When assessment feedback discussions are facilitated by trained professionals, participants very commonly state that the results provide unique and very useful insights into the impact of their leadership on others. This creates a very open dialogue with feedback providers about leadership challenges they personally face and strategies to overcome derailers.

Assessment that simulates the challenges that transitioning leaders will face also creates a safe environment for participants to learn about their readiness, their relevant strengths, and their development needs. This heightened awareness of development informs learning plans. And learning in the safe environment of a simulation is much better than learning by trial and error on the job. In my experience, many participants in acceleration centers that simulate future challenges are initially disappointed by their results, especially when they are accustomed to "acing" everything they do at work. But after they receive their feedback they often have clearer insights into the growth needed to meet the challenges they are likely to face if promoted. As a result, they are more eager to learn.

Don’t plan assessment and development programs in silos.

To prepare for a leadership transition, neither assessment alone, nor training alone, nor coaching and mentoring alone is enough to enable readiness. On the other hand, programs that include all of these elements, in a planful and integrated way, can have enormous value. Even though simulation-based assessment and inventories increase participants' awareness of their learning needs and of transition challenges, these individuals still need support if they are to change their leadership behavior and experience growth. Feedback without growth plans can be initially confusing to participants and perceived as not actionable. Similarly, providing development with no personal awareness or discernable business value can easily be seen as irrelevant to their needs as a leader and their future job success. All leadership programs must be fully integrated through a common framework and have well-defined roles for all involved in the acceleration plan.

The leadership blueprints described above provide clear links between business challenges and the content of all programs, increasing the perception of the program as a worthwhile organizational investment. A common framework establishes clear and reinforcing links between assessment results and specific learning activities. The development implications of assessment should be apparent—and development should be designed to address those implications.

Assessment results should be paired with a blended learning strategy that includes training, coaching, mentoring, and developmental projects or assignments in order to create an ideal environment for learning and growth. Learning journeys achieve growth through multiple steps that deploy a variety of stakeholders and resources. Classroom and online courses and experiences can efficiently deliver an understanding of the learning target and how to achieve the desired behavior change. Training often includes online diagnostics to focus participants on their specific strengths and shortfalls. Learning application can be achieved through one-on-one or group discussions, coaching by peers and mentors, online application support, coaching by the managers of participants, stretch assignments, hands-on projects, and discussions or presentations with peers and other stakeholders followed by balanced feedback. At higher levels, there is a greater emphasis on learning application, mentoring, direct coaching, and support from others. At lower levels, application support is more frequently provided online, with a greater focus on manager support and less involvement by peers and less mentoring by more-senior leaders.

The fusion of assessment and development with the approaches and tools described above facilitates learning and accelerates growth. When well-designed and properly timed to meet acceleration needs, fusion increases impact and efficiency, and lowers costs. Fusion also substantially enhances the value of all program components and drives impact that is greater than the sum of program components. When fusion interventions at key transition points are effective, the additional coaching and support for leaders, as they apply new skills over time, can be provided by those at the same leadership level, greatly increasing the likelihood that what is learned is applied on the job—a huge value and cost savings. In addition, making all leaders coaches is a great incentive for leaders and learners to learn and model the desired behaviors.

Without a strategic framework built upon well-defined blueprints and fully integrated programs that drive growth, companies may assess and train using approaches that are inconsistent and not timed to improve selection decisions or accelerate development when it is most critically needed. As a result, learners and managers fail to see the value and relevance of these programs to the challenges they face on the job. These poorly planned efforts lead to large expenditures of time and resources that result in only marginal behavioral change and minimal impact. To avoid the risks associated with having transitioning leaders learn by trial and error, a growing number of organizations are deploying a pipeline strategy that ensures leaders are sufficiently fully ready before making a level or role transition. This substantially improves time to full productivity and retention.

The fusion of assessment and development to support individuals making leadership transitions takes time and resources, yet the impact is great and the engagement and growth of participants can be high. When compared to frequent, poorly integrated assessment and development activities that create little growth and are not timed to improve decision making, the fusion strategy for leadership transitions is less costly and much more impactful.

A strategic framework for HR investments is especially critical given the enhanced emphasis on demonstrating the ROI of HR programs and the difficult business challenges faced by an organization's leaders. Using either assessment or development on its own and without fusion is a missed opportunity.

Don’t just respond to problems. Committing to a plan is indispensable to success.

I have had too many discussions with clients who said things like:

“We just found out that the senior leaders want …”
“We have feedback that the process we have put in place is too long and not relevant.”
“A few years ago the companies changed... and HR needs to do …”
“After leaders completed the development program, management believed few were ready for promotion.”

These statements often reflect a reactive stance toward the building of leadership capability.

I can recall too many examples of regions within multinational companies having different approaches to leadership readiness at the same target level. Some take an approach that emphasizes selection. Others emphasize development. Others do neither. Some use tools and programs designed for different target audiences or different purposes (e.g., using development tools for selection). Lack of an overall plan regarding leader readiness is costly and produces insufficient buy-in, growth, and impact.

Senior leaders must have a plan they can employ to ready leaders for career transitions. Some critical elements of a good plan include:

  1. Leadership priorities – the three to four leadership challenges that leaders across the organization face at various levels and, if relevant, the specific leadership challenges associated with specific regions or functions.  These are best defined through the development of the blueprints for success using the steps outlined above. 
  2. Leadership capacity gaps – the number of leaders needed to make career transitions by level and region/unit, and when they will be needed. Tactical and strategic business planning and budgeting are good sources for gathering information on the number of leaders needed.
  3. An engine for accelerating growth – an established process of identifying potential, assessing readiness, and accelerating development.
  4. A dashboard to chart progress on accelerating growth.
  5. Sustainability tactics – communication plans targeting all stakeholders, clearly defined roles and accountabilities for all, and plans to develop the skills needed to succeed in assigned roles.
  6. Lead and lag measures to evaluate success – the program's impact on users, managers and other stakeholders,  as well as its impact on business results and organizational culture.

Given the growing focus on talent analytics, measurement is an especially critical activity during planning and implementation. The best studies occur over time and include multiple measures that tap, at various points in time, the views of all stakeholders and measure outcomes that will be positively affected directly or indirectly.  During planning there is great value in thinking through the capabilities that will be directly affected and the outcomes (both organizational culture and business results) that will be indirectly affected. This helps set the right expectations for all stakeholders and articulates the solution’s value.  Initial measures should evaluate leadership capabilities (changes in participants' leadership behaviors, quality of development plans and results, leader proficiency, leadership readiness, time to full productivity, and perceptions of the organization's leaders and acceleration processes as evaluated by participants and other stakeholders).  These results can also be used to plan "course corrections."  The solution's impact on the organization’s aggregate leadership capability should also be assessed (e.g. quality and size of the bench and promotions, levels of readiness for advancement, number of positions filled on time with internal and/or fully ready individuals).  Later measures should assess the impact on the groups participants lead (engagement, productivity, morale, 360 results and retention) and impact on business results that participants directly or indirectly impact (customer service and retention, quality of products, in-time performance or billable hours). When I am asked by a client to begin with a pilot my first reaction is that the client is uncertain about the value of the proposed solution.  When I agree to a pilot that may be needed for business reasons, I only agree if there is broad agreement on what will be impacted and how it will be measured. Without that clarity and documented results, the very best solutions can be abandoned for the wrong reasons.

In my experience, companies that have skimped on planning and implement a solution in one or two regions and then try to deploy it in other regions typically face resistance or diminished results. Often, the regions that are initially involved embrace the results because of their direct involvement in the planning and implementation. They may at some level adopt the solution to their own regions' needs, which may negatively impact adoption by other regions whose mode of operating and capabilities are different.  For example, some regions have sophisticated HR staff and/or line leaders, which may impact their respective roles in a solution as well as the development needed to prepare them to support it.

Other regions may have shortfalls in both groups, making more external support necessary for an effective implementation.  When deployed in regions not directly involved in the initial deployment, they may encounter negative views of the solution and resistance in large part due to these regions not fully understanding the solution and not having had the opportunity to shape it. The problem is often related to communications and implementation support than rather than the solution itself.  It is much more effective for stakeholders from all regions to plan leadership capability-building interventions. Global planning creates a better understanding of the expected outcomes of a solution. Stakeholders can jointly agree upon the organizational “must haves” and elements of the solution that can be configured by regions, as well as determine how to measure the solution’s impact. This achieves the desired results and effective implementations with higher levels of engagement and impact.  Such planning is less frequently required at higher levels where executives across regions more commonly interact with executives from other regions and needs are more homogeneous.

Don’t “do it to them.” Get everyone onboard and involved.

In my experience I have repeatedly seen that there are four ways to promote buy-in and involvement for a leadership initiative. These four considerations add to the perceived fairness, accuracy, and acceptance of these critical decisions.

  1. Lead the process
    Creating the business-relevant architecture that integrates assessment and development programs requires leadership from the most senior HR leaders in an organization. They must lead the strategies to sell the programs to stakeholders and participants and shape the design, launch, and execution of readiness programs that yield the best results.  When functions work too independently without a clear focus on a common blueprint, they often rely too heavily on functional expertise. While they may be technically sound, these programs too often are over-engineered, inconsistent with one another, and miss the mark regarding business relevancy. This lessens their value. Well-integrated programs that help realize blueprints for leader success produce greater growth for leaders and greater business impact and thereby gain the support of users and stakeholders.
  2. Inform and involve those interested in leadership transitions
    Leaders, especially millennials, place a high value on partnering and involvement.  Those interested in a leadership transition should be provided with a balanced and realistic orientation to the challenges and opportunities they will face.  At lower levels, these orientations can be in groups or online.  Inventories that enhance potential candidates’ self-insights are also of great value.

    At all levels it is important that potential candidates discuss career decisions with HR and line managers. Career discussions are made easier if the organization’s career paths are designed so that leadership transition is not the only path to growth or status.  Examples of other career paths include moving into a higher-level specialist role with few or no direct reports or a lateral transfer to another department or function.  When leadership transitions are the only path, individuals may pursue them even when they personally know that they are a poor skill and motivational fit. All of these activities provide information and insights to shape career decisions and plans. They often result in potential candidate decisions to 1) pursue a leadership transition, 2) develop plans to enhance readiness before pursuing a leadership transition, or 3) choose another career path.

    If HR and line leaders engage direct reports in these other career path options, substantial gains can be realized in organizational commitment and the retention of talent. This is especially the case at lower levels, as better-informed career decisions improve the quality of candidate pools and make them a more manageable size. Some organizations provide financial incentives to managers based upon the success rates of their direct reports in promotional activities. Those managers with higher candidate success rates are financially rewarded for their effective career coaching.
  3. Inform and involve managers
    As stated earlier, when it comes to leadership transitions, accurate predictions of potential and readiness are inherently difficult as managers try to predict how individuals will succeed in leadership jobs with significantly different requirements. Objective assessment (e.g., behavioral simulations and personality inventories) provides valuable insights to improve business-critical decisions regarding readiness. Managers’ expertise and knowledge of the business and of individual candidates are also critical inputs. The most accurate selection decisions are made when multiple decision-makers—especially managers—review all data before making final decisions about candidates.

    Similarly, providing managers with a better understanding of leadership potential and structured input into these critical decisions are important to accuracy and buy-in.
  4. Inform participants of the organization’s decisions
    Participants, regardless of the outcome of the process, should be given feedback on their assessment results and provided with insights to help them plan both their development and their careers.


For HR to impact their organization’s success and create value and ROI, they must collaborate with key stakeholders to build a focused approach for elevating the building of leadership capability to a business strategy.

This is best done by:

  1. Understanding the challenges of the VUCA world and their implications for an organization and for HR investments in leadership readiness.
  2. Identifying leadership transitions where risks—to the individual leader and to the organization—are greatest.
  3. Creating blueprints for leadership success shaped by the organization’s specific business and cultural challenges.
  4. Mitigating the risks associated with transitions by investing in programs that provide data and insights to improve selection decisions and build participants’ awareness of the need for growth.
  5. Ensuring these assessment and development programs are well-integrated and reinforce and support one another, so they have maximum impact on accelerating development.
  6. Committing to an overall plan that ensures goals are met and measures impact.
  7. Providing decision-makers and participants with predictive information about potential and readiness for leadership transitions, and actively involving all stakeholders in these decisions, thereby creating greater accuracy and acceptance of them.

Talk to an Expert: A Perspective on Leadership Readiness
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