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Succession Planning: Pushing Your Future Stars to the Top

August 30, 2012

For the past three weeks, I've suggested approaches for managing the more wayward talent in your Nine-Box Performance-Potential Matrix.

Coping with Organizational Enigmas

Get Your "Up or Outs" Moving Up or Moving Out

The Perils of Organizational Icebergs 

Those individuals who haven't moved in the northeasterly direction in your succession plan like you've intended.  Instead they've proceeded in potential without progressing on performance or they've proven to be strong performers but haven't seemed to sparkle with potential in your organization.  The future starstime has now come to focus on those individuals who are making your succession plan look good.  These are your Future Stars that make a difference right now and with the right developmental support, can be transformational for your organization's future.  These Future Stars come in 3 varieties:

1.  Developing Your Core

Talent in the center square of your Nine-Box are proceeding directly along the path of your succession plan.  Assess where members of this Core group stand in their career-development pathway.  Some may not be ready or interested in advancement yet.  Recognize that your Core talent does not need to be pushed at this time.  It's acceptable for them to stay where they are.  Until they're ready for that next step, here are some other suggestions:

  • Provide coaching and training that builds both technical expertise and leadership skill

  • Give them short-term assignments or projects that expose them to the types of challenges they'll face at the next level; gauge their reaction to the experience

  • Praise their accomplishments in the present role and build trust with them so they'll let you know when they're ready to make the next move

  • Ensure that they know they are valued, listen to their ideas and monitor their behavior for signs of complacence or dissatisfaction

2.  Coach Your Pros to Stardom

The Pros in your organization are the high performers who show some potential for having a greater impact.  Often, it's a matter of readiness that prevents them from moving into those larger roles.  Accordingly, the focus should be on development and preparation for longer term opportunities.

  • Look to provide them with "stretch" assignments - projects that may require them to do things they don't already know how to do or necessitate skills and abilities that are beyond their current role

  • Challenge them to be high performers in a higher profile role

  • Find a mentor for them that is at least one level up on your organization chart

  • Promote relationship building among other high performing talent in your Nine-Box

  • Make short-term job rotations or job swaps readily available to them; give them a chance to operate in a completely new role - and assess reactions to those experiences

3.  Grow Your Prodigies to Greatness

We typically use the term "prodigy" to describe someone with high potential that hasn't fully grown into that role (e.g., a child math prodigy).  Similarly, those members of your talent pool that may not have achieved in performance what they reveal in potential are Prodigies in your Nine-Box.  This is particularly true for the more junior participants in your Succession Plan.  The key is to focus on competency gaps and removing performance barriers in an effort to shift the Prodigy from "good to great."

  • Challenge them with a start-up assignment where they have responsibility for creating a new process or opening a new market; make it a high-profile activity that no one else has done

  • Consider matching them to a higher performing mentor who can help them along the path

  • For more junior members, provide assignments where they have a chance to step in and resolve conflicts or inefficiencies in a problem area or task them to do a "clean up" in an area of disrepair

  • Make short-term job rotations or job swaps readily available to them; give them a chance to operate in a completely new role - and assess reactions to those experiences

Your Future Stars represent what's going right in your Succession Plan.  Each of them should serve as a "Poster Child" for how career development works in your organization.  Celebrate their successes with others and make sure that stumbles are revealing to them, and to you, on how to get it right the next time.

Drew Brock, Ph.D.