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Harv Bus Rev. 2003 Dec;81(12):76-84, 125.

Developing your leadership pipeline.

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University of Southern California's Center for Effective Organizations, Los Angeles, California, USA.


Why do so many newly minted leaders fail so spectacularly? Part of the problem is that in many companies, succession planning is little more than creating a list of high-potential employees and the slots they might fill. It's a mechanical process that's too narrow and hidebound to uncover and correct skill gaps that can derail promising young executives. And it's completely divorced from organizational efforts to transform managers into leaders. Some companies, however, do succeed in building a steady, reliable pipeline of leadership talent by marrying succession planning with leadership development. Eli Lilly, Dow Chemical, Bank of America, and Sonoco Products have created long-term processes for managing the talent roster throughout their organizations--a process Conger and Fulmer call succession management. Drawing on the experiences of these best-practice organizations, the authors outline five rules for establishing a healthy succession management system: Focus on opportunities for development, identify linchpin positions, make the system transparent, measure progress regularly, and be flexible. In Eli Lilly's "action-learning" program, high-potential employees are given a strategic problem to solve so they can learn something of what it takes to be a general manager. The company--and most other best-practice organizations--also relies on Web-based succession management tools to demystify the succession process, and it makes employees themselves responsible for updating the information in their personnel files. Best-practice organizations also track various metrics that reveal whether the right people are moving into the right jobs at the right time, and they assess the strengths and weaknesses not only of individuals but of the entire group. These companies also expect to be tweaking their systems continually, making them easier to use and more responsive to the needs of the organization.

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