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Ready when? – Guidance for Succession Planning

Authored by: Roger Pearman and Robert Eichinger

A part of many Succession Planning or Talent Review sessions include the “Ready When?” estimate. In other words, when is a High Potential ready for the next opportunity? It’s usually a time estimate. Ready Now or ready in ‘X’ months or years. The next stage of development with a Ready Now decision is more information that adds to the appropriate selection, development and deployment actions.  

Putting aside the question about whether manager or leader estimates of the time element is accurate or not, there is a tactic to increase confidence and certainty.

The slight but powerful advance is to move to “Ready Pending”.

The typical example is: what would need to happen or be demonstrated before the collective wisdom would say this person should be offered another opportunity?

There are near infinite options.

Ready Now works. 

The meaning is that the person could successfully handle another (hopefully challenging) opportunity. It could mean they are already better than others in the proposed role or that they would perform well in the new role. Its the next step on the way to the top. It could also be a retention strategy.  

Ready Now or Else

Meaning that there is an unacceptable risk of losing this High Potential if they are not given something new and challenging to do. The deployment options are to a) make a change and cross your fingers (because it is a bit early) or b) put them in a study group or on a task force or include them in next-level meetings they are likely to experience as motivating.

Ready Now Pending Blockage Resolution

More often than we would like, career progress is being blocked by someone else in a development role or job who is not a High Potential. That person may be doing OK, but they are in their last job or role from the standpoint of organizational progression. They may be relatively young and, if left in place, might be there for a long time. It’s a difficult decision: don’t act and lose a High potential (worth 6 times their annual all-in compensation) or act and negatively impact a good, long term (but too stretched) employee.  

Ready When a Life Event is Resolved.

Life events happen. Getting parents to quality assisted living. There’s a serious illness in the family. A child is in their last year of high school. An estate has to be settled. It’s a bad time to move. There’s a baby on the way.  

Ready After

Assuming there is little or an acceptable risk of losing a High Potential, many times they are in the middle of a project that is both important to the organization and important for them.  So, it’s Ready After this project is complete or closer to completion. Examples: Opening up a new territory in a difficult market.  Introducing a new product or service. Converting to a new digital platform. Turning around a team that has been struggling. Training a critical new team member. The key is in determining the importance to both the organization and the person.

Ready After Demonstrating

What does the person need to demonstrate or show before the collective assessment confirms their status as a vetted and verified High Potential who is ready for a change? Build a strong team? Launch a new product or service? Improve margin in a business unit? Take compassionate action to remove less than stellar performers?  First needs a specific development assignment? The deployment decisions should be directed at the “yet to be proven” information.

Ready After Exposure/Experience

In forward/back succession planning, the requirements for future leaders are estimated. What would you like to have in the ten top leaders 10 years from now? What exposures or experiences would you like them to have before they join the top decision makers?  International assignment? P&L responsibility? Build a team from scratch? Cross business unit service?  M&A?  Regulatory lobbying? Digital Sales? Shareholder relations? In building a future top leader, the candidate has to start with the right stuff and then be assigned to future critical assignments to build knowledge and perspective. “Been there, done that” is critical experience around the problem-solving and decision-making table.

Ready Pending Confirmation. 

Vetting and confirming Potential can be done in a variety of ways including assessment and double-boss nomination, i.e., two independent nominations from two trusted bosses is a good way to solidify the call.

Ready If. 

This usually is used to indicate that a not yet verified High Potential has been given a personal developmental task to accomplish. It is usually not a skill build or role exposure or a specific experience. It is usually something in the interpersonal domain.  It could be an attitude adjustment, an issue of personal style, a political sense or sensibility, or perhaps values oriented. Positive development displays whether they really are willing to invest in getting to the top, perhaps even sacrificing work/life balance. The remedy is usually mentoring or coaching.

Put simply, the various “Readies” need to be resolved to vet and verify that an individual is, first, truly a High Potential, and is ready for the next challenge coming on the trip to the top. All of these can include a time estimate to complete, but “Ready in a Year” is not a sufficient qualifier and does not carry any developmental or deployment information or value.  


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