The typical workforce today is diverse culturally and in terms of generations, meaning employee development needs new dimensions that embrace the diversity. In a globalized workforce, it is a strategy for ensuring a succession pipeline is filled with the right people for business sustainability.
— By Betty Armstrong
Succession planning is a strategy for developing employees who can move into critical positions when necessary. It applies to more than leadership roles because each organization has key positions that would create a huge gap in organizational competencies should they be vacant for any period of time. The importance of developing employees to step into critical positions is accepted.
The new complexity is the fact most workforces are now multi-cultural and multi-generational, meaning effective employee development strategies must consider the appropriate development opportunities in terms of diversity. Providing opportunities that consider diversity is possible due to learning and development technologies coupled with supportive leadership behaviors that ensure high performers are in line and ready to assume key positions.
Meeting the New Needs of a Transformed Workforce
A succession strategy must align with core business objectives and plan for being ready to fill key organizational positions across functions. Key positions are the positions that would leave an organizational competency and ability void should they remain vacant. From this perspective it means critical positions could be leadership roles, project team participants, tech employees and other departmental employees. Developing employees who can assume these roles is critical to business sustainability. Succession planning has always been important, but the added complexity of multi-culturalism and multi-generationalism means organizations must adapt their development opportunities to meet the motivations and needs of diverse talent.
Development opportunities are employee engagement resources, designed to attract, engage, and retain high performing employees. They are critical for filling future talent gaps, and the gaps are in danger of significantly widening as older employees retire. Organizations are at risk of losing critical knowledge as aging employees leave, so the critical consideration is: Who will replace them? Chances are the majority of key vacant positions will be filled with a diverse person through recruitment or promotion. Developing a diverse talent group requires a different strategy than one geared towards a homogenous employee group.
Elevating the Development Process
An intergenerational workforce has varying attitudes, motivations, needs, and relationships. An effective career development strategy identifies high performers and focuses on each individual's motivations and drivers, while also addressing the transfer of knowledge. Traditional development approaches, like seminars and business courses (even online), are not adequate because they lack opportunities for targeted employees to interact with managers and key employees in a mentor-mentee relationship to share knowledge. The ideal development process becomes a two-way process, in that diverse employees gain organizational knowledge (job requirements, culture, real world experiences, etc.) and mentors or co-workers gain cultural or generational knowledge they could not gain working in a homogenous workforce. This elevates the development process.
The first difference between the traditional talent development strategy and a process that supports a high performing diverse workforce is this: The old model of career development is designed to develop the skills of employees who advance in a structured hierarchy, while the new strategy begins with a broader focus on aligning talent competencies and capabilities with business objectives. Career development for a global diverse workforce offers career paths that enable people to explore and utilize their capabilities wherever they can make the greatest contribution. Development can also enhance the value diverse employees offer organizations because learning programs give them opportunities to demonstrate new perspectives and approaches to problem solving.
Fundamental Shift in Development Goals
It is the fundamental shift in development goals that is driving changes in approaches. People are not developed to assume a particular position in most cases. They are developed to enable them to achieve their highest performance level and expand their capabilities, giving organizations a pipeline filled with people who have career flexibility.
Raytheon is a good example of a company implementing a talent development strategy to embrace workforce diversity – gender, ethnicity, veterans and generations. The new strategy emphasizes aspects like rapid development of critical skills in alignment with organizational goals, knowledge transfer and apprenticeship (experiential learning). A critical element of Raytheon's strategic talent management strategy for building a leadership talent pipeline is a revamped development process. It includes training on topics like bias, inclusive leadership, internal communications, and other topics that build an inclusive culture.
Interactive eLearning programs, assessment and feedback processes, peer exchanges through internal social media, and other resources support the new development approach. Technology is the enabler of tailored development opportunities. Pre-packaged talent development programs are becoming less and less effective because there is not a one-size-fits-all workforce. For example, one of the trends gaining speed is what one author calls the "personal learning cloud." It is a solution linking technology and the need for customized learning.
The PLC is a learning platform that is tailored to the particular needs of the roles of people and the organization's needs. There is a growing number of opportunities for utilizing this type of development approach. They include MOOCs; platforms like edX and Coursera offering interactive online content; corporate development programs like LinkedIn Learning and Skillsoft that develop core skills; consulting firm on-demand, solution focused leadership development approaches, like McKinsey Solutions and BCG Enablement; and finally, talent management platforms like Yello and SmashFly which connect learner outcomes to recruitment, retention, and promotion decisions.
Solutions like McKinsey Academy for leader development have a social element in that people solve problems in a collaborative manner. It has several programs with the Functional Academies offering leadership capability building, among other options.
At Raytheon, adaptive learning technologies are used to identify current knowledge of specific topics, and the information is used to offer development opportunities that close learning gaps. Raytheon identifies high-potential employees early in their careers and offers leadership development opportunities through experiential grids. The grids enable exploration of different roles and can tailor experiences that promote on-the-job development. Senior leadership teams also sponsor protégés to help them develop crucial relationships and networks, important to giving visibility to diverse employees who might be otherwise overlooked due to bias, lack of traditional experience, or other factors.
Helping People Shine
Employee career development strategies must adapt to the diverse workforce if organizations want to fill their succession pipeline with qualified people. It is no longer a linear promotion path that motivates and engages people. It is a career path that enables people from all generations and cultures to explore their capabilities, share their unique knowledge with others and pursue the opportunities that fit their needs. Developing diverse people in the global workforce requires a diversity of learning opportunities.