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How to Build Leadership Bench Strength

HR needs a new “portfolio” approach to building leadership bench strength as digitalization complicates roles and succession plans

Source | | Mary Baker

Building the leadership bench is a major priority in 2019 for 67% of heads of human resources and 78% of talent management leaders, as HR helps to drive operational excellence and digital business transformation. HR leaders have typically filled the leadership pipeline with potential successors for specific positions or roles, but they need a new approach for today’s uncertain and rapidly changing times.

One of the challenges for leadership development is that most organizations expect more than 40% of leadership roles to be significantly different within five years. “This uncertainty around what the future of work looks like and what skills leaders will need to be successful makes it difficult to successfully build a strong leadership bench,” said Sari Wilde, Managing Vice President at Gartner.

Organizations reporting a strong leadership bench was a mere 13% in 2016. In 2018, 47% of HR leaders said their organizations struggle to develop effective leaders, and 45% said their succession management processes didn’t yield the right leaders at the right time.

In today’s complex and constantly evolving environment, where leadership is more complex and leadership roles are constantly evolving, progressive organizations take a portfolio management approach to building leadership bench strength, shifting their approach in four key ways.

Shift from supply-driven to demand-driven planning

HR has typically used supply-driven planning (assessing current roles and gaps in leadership supply). Organizations now need to develop stronger demand forecasting capabilities as well. Specifically, they should:

  • Align leadership strategy to organizational strategy, not existing roles and vacancies.
  • Design high-potential (HIPO) and succession processes that meet future, not just current, leadership roles and requirements.

Planning leadership strategy based on projected demand, not just current supply, has twice the impact on leadership bench strength as supply-driven planning.

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