Who’s on Deck?


Most organizations spend a lot of time closely monitoring the money behind their business: budgeting, financials, tracking inventory, completing monthly expense reports and so on. But how much time does your organization spend on the people behind your business and, specifically, succession planning? Who’s on deck for the next opening on your leadership team?

Some organizations use a talent mapping process which is often discussed by various management teams prior to annual reviews. A 4-box talent mapping system might include categories for high potential, talent to grow, talent to maintain and needs improvement. One of the large automotive companies uses a 9-box system of categories to map talent each year.

With 10,000 people turning 65 years old every day, huge numbers of retirements will continue as the baby boomers sail off into their post-work lives. It behooves all organizations to make sure focused, consistent time is spent mapping talent and charting possible succession paths.

Only then can attention be turned to designing activities for development that get people ready for advancement. Development activities can range from formal programs to short-term projects.

Mentor programs

Mentor programs continue to be a fantastic way to develop talent with benefits for the mentee, the mentor and the organization. Mentees gain a trusted ally, insider knowledge of the company’s culture and increased confidence. Over my many years of managing corporate mentor programs, I continue to hear feedback about the value of having someone to ask questions to that isn’t the mentee’s boss. Sometimes mentees can think they should know all the answers and that reaching out for help shows incompetence. Having a trusted mentor allows mentees to ask those questions when they are unsure. They also appreciate the candid feedback from mentors, knowing it comes from a place of wanting to help.

Although we think of mentor programs as solely for the benefit of the mentees, mentors also report gains. A mentor program can be a low-cost, high-gain experience for developing the junior to mid-level employee. It gives them an opportunity to have a quasi-direct report if they are looking to advance to be a manager.

Mentor programs can also be a way to transfer institutional knowledge by pairing senior employees with newer associates. In evaluations of mentor programs, mentors say they gain sharpened listening skills, leadership experience, an expanded company network, increased empathy and rejuvenated enthusiasm for their job — since they now have someone watching and learning from them.

In addition to employee development, the organization itself gains improved communication. Many organizations report that having “silos” and mentor programs are a tremendous help in creating new channels of communication. And with these increased interactions, a stronger company fabric emerges which, of course, helps with retention.

Mentor programs are just one possible option for development, as companies look at succession planning and getting the next leadership cohort ready. Spend focused time talking about your talent pipeline and creating development programs that harness the energy of those millennials! We’re going to need them.


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit SusanCombsCoaching.com or MentorRoadmap.com for more information.

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