Irwin van Stavel
Globally, one of the areas where organisations are falling short is that they are not thinking long-term and are neglecting succession management in their talent development strategies. Leadership development plays a vital part in this and recent research proves that leaders are not being given the growth opportunities to reach their full potential.


DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast released last year revealed that while 75 percent of the executives surveyed indicated that improving leadership talent is a top priority, a mere 40 percent of the respondents were satisfied with what their organisations were actually doing to assist them with their growth requirements.

Great leadership doesn’t happen by accident. Organisations need to start making the right development investments if they want different results. Higher quality leadership equates to superior business performance.

With Human Resources (HR) professionals indicating that one in three succession candidates fail, organisations should be asking themselves whether they have the quantity and quality of leaders they will need to run their companies in three or five years time.

Identifying the key leadership roles within the organisation is the first step in the succession planning process. It is imperative that organisations ensure that there are employees that are both aligned and sufficiently developed to take over these roles when time necessitates. Once the key roles have been identified, organisations can then move on to defining the competencies required to match these critical leadership roles.

Many organisations are not in touch with the skill sets required by modern business leaders. The skill set necessary to function optimally as a business leader has changed dramatically over the years and will continue to do. However, selecting the right leaders still remains crucial.

This leads onto the second step in succession planning – defining the competencies required to match identified roles. Leaders need to have spent sufficient time developing the core competencies required in a new position before they can take up a leadership role. They also need to fit the leadership profile as identified by the individual organisation as being aligned to its vision, mission and values.

Organisations then need to assess people in the organisation against the identified criteria. The company needs to identify where there are gaps in knowledge, skill, motivation and capacity and then fill these gaps to enable their future leadership.

The next step is to identify talent that could potentially perform effectively in the identified roles. First decide what you expect talent to look like, draw up the criteria and then list people who fit the definition of talent for the unique face of your organisation.

The last step in the succession planning process should be the development of people and creating readiness to fill the identified roles. This should be done through the right set of experiences, through coaching and mentoring, and through increasing knowledge and skill base. Employees need to be given the opportunity to learn and grow. Give them the space to fail, to find solutions and to grow their experience.

Although formal training or classroom learning is effective as a development method and will always have its place in a development programme, organisations are not incorporating enough job rotations or project assignments into their programmes which have proven to be one of the most effective ways in which adults learn. What emerges from DDI’s research is a clear message that executives want more opportunities to learn on the job, allowing for networking and collaboration.

A lot also needs to be said about the power of passionate leaders. Allow your employees the opportunity to express their desire to lead, should they have the potential and drive to do so.

DDI’s research shows that 53 percent of the leaders in the top three performing companies it surveyed indicated that they had the passion to lead. If a leader is passionate about what they do, they, in turn, will instil passion among the people they lead, making it part of a common vision. Employee engagement and empowerment are important factors in determining organisational success. Engaged and empowered employees feel a sense of purpose and are committed to a vision. Leaders will not create this if they don’t have a sense of meaning in their own roles and therefore should first take stock of their own purpose, to recognise the unique contribution they can make, taking into account that every leader has their own leadership style.

There is no question that the payoff for organisations that revolutionise their leadership practices and focus on effective succession planning is enormous. Although South Africa can boast of many great business leaders, organisations should be thinking of future leadership and have progressive workplace-based programmes in place to ensure leadership development that will ultimately increase organisational success.