HR Management, Talent Management

Offering a Hand: Who in the Talent Pipeline Are You Helping to Pull Up?

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“As she climbs up the ladder she has the other hand extended to bring someone else along.”

I was watching Oprah’s Lifeclass the other day, and one of the things that resonated with me was that statement that one of her friends said about Oprah and why she was successful.

Who is next in your pipeline? Who do you have your other hand extended to?

Succession or replacement? You choose

I read with interest a few weeks back when it was announced that McDonalds will have Don Thompson as the new CEO after chief executive JIm Skinner retires.

My thought: man, these guys really get it. If you have followed the organization over the years, you know that they have seamlessly replaced the CEO in so many instances, and they do not skip a beat.

  • Jim Cantalupo, the leader of the recent turnaround at the world’s biggest fast-food chain, died of an apparent heart attack while at a McDonald’s convention for franchisees in Orlando, Florida in 2004.
  • Charlie Bell was named chief executive after Cantalupo died, but then Bell died of colorectal cancer in 2005.
  • Jim Skinner became President and CEO after Bell’s death. Skinner began his McDonald’s career as a trainee restaurant manager at a McDonald’s in Carpentersville, Illinois in 1971 after serving nearly 10 years with the U.S. Navy.

CEO replacement is white hot

IBM recently replaced Sam Palmisano, who retired at the end of 2011, with long-time executive Virginia Rometty. Palmisano had replaced legendary CEO Lou Gerstner.

Apple’s current CEO Tim Cook replaced his iconic predecessor, Steve Jobs, when Jobs suddenly died last October.

Contrast that with the CEO shuffles that were out of tune. HP made a mockery of itself when it replaced Mark Hurd because of inappropriate behavior. The board brought in former SAP CEO Leo Apotheker, who lasted less than a year before being ousted after he killed their tablet, said he would spin off the company’s PC division, and washed away millions of dollars in shareholder value. His replacement was former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, who was a HP board member.

Just this week, big box electronics retailer Best Buy announced that by mutual agreement, CEO Brian Dunn, who started as a store associate, would be stepping down. Who was there to step up, no one? The board announced that they had begun the process of finding his replacement — which meant that the executive search was probably already underway.

According to a Bersin & Associates survey, only 19 percent of large organizations have a business strategy to identify and develop high-potential leaders. Nearly half of the companies surveyed have only an ad-hoc or locally managed approach, or, no approach at all.

Whether CEOs or other top leaders leave because of retirement, illness, or the lure of a better offer, responsible Boards of Directors are asking company executives about future staffing strategies — and they should be. The board’s role, after all, is that of a watchdog to ensure business continuity and viability.

How could this be?

Grooming executives is an art that needs to be well planned, methodical, and targeted. The companies that are good at this game of musical chairs take the steps necessary to ensure a successful transition into the chief executive position within the respective organizations.

In these organizations, the CEO personally oversees and approves the opportunities for their potential successors to absorb the organizational DNA.

In today’s climate, this succession should also take into consideration all the key players within your organization. The companies that will win this “war on talent” are the ones that will have a plan in place that takes into account these types of scenario planning.

As I travel the country and facilitate seminars for the Human Capital Institute, I interact with some of the most amazing HR professionals. One of the main thoughts I have is that like executive leadership succession, these HR leaders must undertake that same rigor within their departments and begin the schooling process of the next generation of HR executives.

Soaking it up like a sponge

We all have had these potential successors in our employ and noticed that they were eager, reading all the trade magazines and soaking everything up like a sponge. In some cases they studied and/or majored in Human Resources in college. Maybe now they’re attending grad school at night and concentrating on some aspect of HR.

These amazing young people who are “choosing” our profession are unlike a lot of us that just morphed into it. Instead, they chose to be Human Resources Professionals.

So as we think about our organization’s succession plan, we must also take that same model to our departments so they can work on finding and developing our next level of talent. It means nothing to simply build your personal brand as the HR person that gets and understand the intersection of people and the organization. It is important that you — really we –develop our staffs as well.

If you are not pushing that knowledge down through your ranks, you could end up like Best Buy, HP, and the other dysfunctional organizational “Hall of Fame” companies.

So take a look in the mirror; if your one hand is pulling you up to that next step in your professional development, who is offering that helping hand that is also working to get you there?

Ron Thomas is a Chief Human Resource & Administrative Officer currently based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He formerly was Director, Talent and Human Resources Solutions at Buck Consultants (a Xerox Company) and is certified by the Human Capital Institute as a Master Human Capital Strategist (MHCS) and Strategic Workforce Planner (SWP). He's also worked in senior HR roles with Martha Stewart Living and IBM. Ron serves on the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy. He also serves as a Faculty Partner and Executive Facilitator at the Human Capital Institute. He has received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence by the World Human Resource Development Congress in Mumbai. Contact him at ronaldtthomas@gmail.com, or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/Ronald_thomas.