Having successfully filled the C-suite, surprisingly few companies give much thought to the ongoing training and development of their top talent. And those that do, find it a lot more difficult than they anticipated. Why? 

The identification and development of executive talent requires two basic preconditions: a clear understanding of the critical business success factors, plus the ability to describe, recognise, and reward high-performance behaviours against these success factors.

While it may sound simple, the fact is that while many people understand the business strategy and are deeply familiar with it – in fact may even have helped develop it – insufficient attention is given to understanding the actions and behaviours necessary to support the strategy. It’s as though having expended so much energy on developing what needs to be done, it gets dropped on a table (beautifully bound, of course), with the assumption that it will now be implemented.

As a result, it’s rare to find a strategy document that includes a blueprint of the high-performance behaviour necessary to deliver on it.  And the reason can usually be summed up in one word: culture. This is especially true in diversified organisations where one finds several strong – and very definite – streams running through an organisation’s culture, stamped by strong and successful executives. They are often founded on tradition, with considerable “volunteerism” in belonging and committing effort to the outcome of a specific team.

There can be a “cultish” note to this commitment with strong pride in achievement and success; often in highly competitive environments. When these cultural underpinnings come under pressure or are subject to change, there can be strong resistance to changes in the rituals that have historically defined management progression. 

The trick is to leverage and capitalise on the strengths within these cultures that have contributed to the success of the organisation to date, while at the same time enhancing ongoing change processes through a mix of persuasion and instruction.

Below is a simple yet effective model for dealing with this potentially sensitive process. It’s a useful framework within which to initiate difficult conversations around what constitutes successful behaviours and assess current strengths and capabilities as a precursor to adopting a disciplined approach to the development and promotion of people to key roles within the organisation.

Critical to this process is ensuring that the appropriate resources are in place or are being developed to guarantee appropriate succession and ongoing business performance. In our experience, the identification of individuals who have the appropriate characteristics, or have the potential to develop such characteristics, is often the missing link.

Q1 Low Performance/Has reached potential

A good executive assessment processes will release data that clearly identifies specific attitude and ability shortfalls, and highlights areas where capability enhancement is possible. Where capability enhancement is not possible, alternative options for these employees should be explored. The capability platform for individual roles and classes of roles is a priority to ensure appropriate selection and evaluation profiles are developed.

This capability platform can also be actively utilised “upstream“ as selection benchmarks to minimise the numbers of Q1 individuals entering the organisation.

Q2 Low Performance/Has future potential

Where the data released through the executive assessment processes outlined above identifies opportunities for capability enhancement, a decision point has been reached. If resources are available, the opportunity exists to develop action plans anchored by performance management that provide a framework for employee performance improvement in the existing role. Complete misalignment of individual capability and/or reward structures may underpin low performance and in these cases role redefinition or role reassignment may be required.

Q3 High Performance/Has reached potential

There will be a significant number of people in organisations who perform successfully, but who may not have the potential to take the next step in an upward career direction. These people need to be cherished, while at the same time their contribution to the organisation recognised and further enhanced. Quite often these people are promoted (as a rite of passage) and their attributes and strengths are lost to the organisation.

A process of executive coaching and redefining the worth and talent of these people will maximise their contribution and maintain their commitment and loyalty. The executive assessment process can assist in reducing the impact of over-promoting and deliver appropriate executive coaching and counselling platforms.

Q4 High Performance/Has future potential

There will also be several people in organisations who perform at a high level, but also possess the potential to take significant future steps in an upward career direction. These people need clear career and development plans which accelerate capability. A framework should exist that recognises and rewards excellence in performance. The executive assessment process will assist in targeting specific development interventions used to accelerate capability.