NOV 30, 2007Worried about succession planning? You should be – especially if you’re anything like the US government agency quoted in recent research by IBM, which fears 50 per cent of its leadership positions could be vacated within the next five years.
Webster Buchanan has long argued that succession planning is underrated and under-executed, which is why we’ve taken to highlighting the activities of companies like HBOS Insurance and Investment. And IBM Global Business Services, which interviewed over 400 senior HR execs around the world as part of its Global Human Capital Study 2008, seems to think along the same lines. Its research report, launched in New York earlier this month, focused on a broad range of issues, including some old chestnuts (strategic HR) and some of those awkward issues that you know make sense but still sound a bit too much like marketing spiel (viz ‘developing an adaptable workforce’). Among them, however, was also the very real problem of the leadership gap.
The survey respondents cited lack of leadership capability as the second most important workforce-related issue they faced, lagging behind only their inability to rapidly develop skills to address their business needs. Rapid growth and changing demographics were two of the key factors behind the leadership gap. And it doesn’t look like it’s getting any easier, with some 75 percent of respondents identifying building leadership talent as their most significant ‘capability-building’ challenge going forward.
So what’s to be done? IBM points to initiatives among respondents such as mentoring and ‘action learning programs’, which bring people together from across the organization to get experience of solving real problems. It also points to techniques such as job rotation, which gives individuals a chance to learn about new environments and gives their employers some insight into how they cope – an approach championed, as Webster Buchanan’s Human Capital Insider pointed out earlier this month, by organizations as diverse as Birmingham City Football Club.
The report points out, however, that getting these initiatives off the ground can be something of a challenge, not least because divisional managers tend to be less than happy about letting their top talent go off on programs that are ultimately designed to move them somewhere else altogether. As IBM points out, the HR function and line managers need to work together to create backfill plans to get round this.
Most important, it argues that there’s an inherent danger in investing in employee development – if you train people up and then fail to give them challenging jobs afterwards, you’ll lose them. That means leadership and employee development need to go hand in hand. The reality about succession planning today is that too few companies are doing it – the practical reality for those that do is that you really need to make sure there’s somewhere for people to succeed to...
Karren Brady at work
NOV 10, 2007What do bawdy comments from footballers, unhygienic bathrooms, ground-breaking job swap schemes and the Institute of Payroll Professionals have in common? Answer – Karren Brady, managing director of Birmingham City Football Club.
Brady – who took charge of Birmingham at the tender age of 24 and became the youngest MD of a UK public company when it floated in 1997 – was the after-dinner speaker at the IPP’s annual conference last week. Talking without notes, she gave a wide-ranging and no-holds-barred presentation that provided some insight into what it’s like working in a male-dominated environment.
It wasn’t a tale for anyone of a sensitive disposition. Take the time when Brady joined the Birmingham team bus to travel to an away game shortly after her appointment. Sharing one toilet with the entire traveling squad was unpleasant enough, she recalled. But it got worse when she walked back down the aisle to hear a footballer yell out (and I quote): “I can see your tits from here”. Quick as a flash, she turned back and snarled: “Well you won’t be able to see them when I sell you to Crewe.” He was transferred to another club days later.
Apart from demonstrating the no-bull approach that got her where she is today, the thrust of Brady’s speech was about the qualities you need to make it happen in business, not least persistence. But she also showed just how unusual – and in many ways, advanced – Birmingham is in its people management practices.
Take the job swaps. Every so often, the club’s employees do a temporary swap with another department – which means someone on the ground staff can end up working briefly in accounts or the ticket office. The idea is to show how each role within the company is central to its success – an important point to make in an environment where one 18 year-old taking entrance money from fans at the gate might earn ₤12k a year, while an 18 year-old footballer could rake in ₤12k per week. More unusually, the principle is extended outside the company, and employees at all levels are encouraged to do job swaps with other organizations to learn what they do differently and ideally, bring the best ideas back to Birmingham.
Every new employee also spends time shadowing Brady herself, so they can see what actually goes on at the top of an organization – and how, contrary to popular opinion, senior management typically has to work harder than everyone else.
And there are plenty of opportunities for people with the courage to go for it. The company’s HR Director, for example, is just 27 years old. Brady says she joined as a 16 year-old on a training scheme, and had enough ambition to convince the club to put her through her formal qualifications.
While it was her people management approach that left a lasting impression, Brady’s colorful anecdotes had the side effect of raising the bar of risqué acceptability during the rest of the conference. Most of the presenters kept things informal but safe during the daily workshops – as far as I can recall, there wasn’t a single x-rated word in Webster Buchanan’s seminar on Multi-country Payroll Management, for example. But the evening events were a time for everyone to let their hair down, particularly during the IPP annual awards dinner.
Thus the sight of the three heads of the British, Canadian and American payroll associations doing a brilliant remake of a sketch on the British class system by the Two Ronnies and John Cleese (it was all about the relationship between Finance, HR and Payroll – but you really had to be there). By the time one of the better known international speakers had complained that the room was so hot he felt as comfortable as a prostitute in church, it really didn’t feel like a staid payroll event at all. Great work all round.
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