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Who's next? Managerial succession planning a must

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Spring is always a great time of year for newly released research papers and sure enough, the U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management has just released its latest study on workforce planning.

So, should I be surprised to learn that only 40 per cent of organizations have conducted a strategic workforce planning assessment or identified their skills gaps? No, frankly, I am not surprised, but I am certainly disappointed. After all, as a human resource professional, I've been touting the message of succession planning for many years. However, as with other pending challenges, some organizations just don't seem to deal with things until a problem smacks them squarely in the head.

Not so with Boeing Canada Operations Ltd. In fact, Boeing's leadership is well aware of the human resource metrics with respect to their baby boomer employees and the collective intellect and experience that could walk out the door any day, and they are doing something about it. Cathy Bain, senior HR manager, and her colleagues Jody Cummings, Nadia Hartung, Dolores Schromeda, Lisa Wyszynski and Celes Isidro along with members of their manufacturing "skills teams" have considered the issue in depth. They had utilized the strategy of external recruitment, but quickly recognized this process was ineffective as new recruits are often too slow to become accustomed to the Boeing culture. In some cases, the lack of adjustment led to the new recruit leaving the organization.

Boeing's solution was to promote from within as the key strategy to fill the skills gap and populate their succession plan. To do that, the company needed to fill the pipeline with trained and skilled candidates for vacant management positions. The challenge then was how to capitalize on employees' knowledge of the Boeing organizational culture and processes while building up the management knowledge and expertise required for leadership roles within the company.

The result was the development of a rigorous internal leadership development program that has immediately proven successful. Bain and her team began by holding management focus groups that led to the development of a candidate success profile. As has been found in other organizations, the biggest gap proved to be soft skills training. Next, the team reviewed Boeing's six corporate leadership attributes and 19 behavioural competencies. These were used to build a check list to review their local internal training programs. They then built a series of one-day training sessions and formulated an eight-month leadership development program.

Developing a program was the easy part. The hard part was strategizing how to recruit and select qualified candidates for the program who would be committed for the long term. As a result, a challenging seven-step selection process was developed and implemented. First of all, the HR team held a series of open public forums for employees to share with them the program plans and the recruitment process. Each forum invited a manager to speak about their role from the point of view of the "good, bad or ugly" -- in other words, giving participants a realistic view of the life of a manager. This was the first of several "realistic job previews" that would be offered to employees.

The next step required interested employees to apply for a position by writing two essays responding to the questions, what does leadership mean to you and why do you want to be a manager? This allowed the assessors to evaluate the participant's efforts as well as their written communication skills. The application was then followed up with brief, informal, in-person interviews focusing on four behavioural-based questions.

Candidates who passed these two screening processes were screened again by higher level managers, human resource representatives and an external assessment professional who engaged each individual in a role-playing exercise, an "in-box" exercise and a psychometric assessment. Those who passed these steps were then placed on a three-week managerial job shadowing term that again assisted with the "realistic job preview" process. At each step of the process, individuals were observed and given personal feedback.

At this point, the participants were next placed in "acting managerial" roles and attended weekly training for a period of eight months. They reported to a senior manufacturing manager who acted as their mentor. They also received coaching services from Jan Tennant, an internal HR professional.

The Boeing internal leadership development program has worked so well that all participants from the first cohort group have successfully attained management positions and will be completing their program in June.

The second class is graduating in November 2012 and a third class is already in the planning stages.

Randy Villacis, a June 2012 graduate, has already secured a manufacturing manager's role and speaks highly of the leadership training program. He indicated that the soft skills training programs customized to the Boeing culture were effective in helping him to build and practise the leadership and management skills he requires in his new position.

Villacis also praised the rigorous selection process as it helped to develop his self-confidence and to confirm that he was on the right path. Villacis is looking forward to blending his technical knowledge with his newly minted skill in the role of manufacturing manager.

Villacis added that the internal Boeing leadership program has served to increase morale as employees see the company truly investing in its employees. In return, Boeing has secured employee loyalty, something that will surely help to fill that talent pipeline.

As with any program, ongoing evaluations are a must. After a program review by the HR team, several adjustments have been made. For instance, the program was restructured to a six-month time frame. The job shadowing element will be reduced to a two-week period. The open public forums proved successful in providing a birds-eye view of a managerial role and will continue as is. As well, the selection process proved to be an excellent tool for choosing the right candidates and this aspect of the program will also be continued.

There's no two ways about it: Succession planning today is such a necessity, yet it remains one of the most neglected areas of human resource management. Perhaps the success of the Boeing program will stimulate other organizations to recognize how valuable this function can be to filling the pipeline with talented employees.

Source: Interviews with Catherine Bain, Jody Cummings, Celes Isidro and Randy Villacis from Boeing Canada Technology, SHRM Survey Findings: SHRM-AARP Strategic Workforce Planning, April 2012.

Barbara J. Bowes, FCHRP, CMC is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 12, 2012 H1

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