Q: Say you’ve got three to four people, running several business units, and they all could be considered for succession planning. How openly and how early do you communicate with those folks about their potential?
That can be tricky. There’s always the question, “Should I tell people early on that they’re high-potential?” If you do, it can artificially inflate their egos. The truth is, if you’re willing to coach people, to put the time and effort into them, it will be obvious that they’re high-potential.
Probably one of the most rewarding things is when you’re sitting with someone and they haven’t given any thought to themselves because they’re just so busy executing. You can open their eyes to self-awareness and ways that they can develop. They’ll be incredibly appreciative that you’ve taken the time with them. That’s why leader assimilation is so important because it helps them get up to speed and understand the landscape they’re walking into. These are very talented people, but they’re so busy. Everyone has something they can work on, but some have more awareness than others.
Q: What are some metrics you use? How do you know when you’re getting it right?
I look at the percentage of hires that are coming from inside vs. outside. I look at turnover. You could be recruiting the best people in the world, but if they’re leaving, you have a problem. One of the great things now is that we do have metrics. You can track everything. How many women, minorities, etc., have moved up? You have the data – you have no excuses. And turnover is very expensive – at all levels.
Q: What types of training programs have you seen, or do you employ, to prepare young, promising leaders to take steps toward leadership positions in the company?
Millennials need development opportunities very early on. We do career workshops for people who are only a couple years in. We’re giving them assessments and discussing what they would like to work on for their careers. Intern programs are a great way for younger workers to get a sense of the company. They do a presentation to top management and at the same time you’re selling them on the company. If you can get 50 percent of your interns to take permanent roles, you’re winning. You’re starting their development a lot earlier in the process.
Q: There’s a lot of attention these days on Baby Boomers in the workplace. Are you seeing any innovative approaches to transitioning older workers?
At Ingredion, we had a mandatory retirement age of 65 for officers. It was very clear. Otherwise you get into a negative, uncomfortable conversation that can turn into a legal problem. When people know what to expect then there’s no room for dispute – but sometimes you also lose great talent that way.
I know a company that puts their older executives on an advisory board and pays them to hand their legacies down to the next generation. When people get to this point in their careers, they are so defined by their work. I haven’t seen too many people who say, “It’s time for me to go.” But this advisory board idea gives them a logical next step. I think boards should also have term limits, or age limits.
At the same time, with the talent war going on, I see a lot of companies seeking ways to retain and re-skill Baby Boomers because they have so much to offer.
Q: What final thoughts do you have on the importance of board involvement in succession planning?
Hopefully if you’ve done your job, and the board knows the landscape, you will be ready for change at any point, whether it’s abrupt or not.
There are boards that keep a steady stream of potential candidates on their radar; they say to their search firms, “Bring me CEO-level talent just so I can know what’s out there.” They’re always interviewing and talking to top talent and keeping a mindset of recruiting and succession planning. After all, organizations are living organisms – they change constantly.