A talent for future talent spotting

Solid succession planning is a sensible way to develop future leaders. Georgina Armytage reveals why

Recently there has been a vast amount of discussion on the topic of succession planning in law firms. At what level do you start succession planning? Is it still realistic to plan for talent in the volatile labour market? And if you are going to forecast, develop and promote talent from within your firm, what is the most effective way to do it?

In many forward-thinking firms, succession planning involves a transparent three-step process: resource planning; career discussions with the talent (evaluating skills and behaviours); and then planning for the future based on this.

In order to complete such a process, the firm must have the foresight to consider its shape and structure for the next two to five years, along with the mechanisms to not only assess their talent effectively, but also objectively.

We recently worked with a firm on precisely this issue. The firm decided that a more objective, transparent and motivational system was required to promote and retain talent throughout the various levels of the firm. Once the benchmark of ‘successful performance’ was ascertained, it developed resource plans that included many different factors. In other words, it had to establish a clear route to success, but also had to establish the behaviours and capabilities that illustrated how to move along this path.

Developing such resource plans is relatively straightforward and can use varying techniques, such as critical incident interviews, focus groups and behaviour-defining questionnaires. However, it is the evaluation and ‘spotting’ of potential talent where a succession plan is most likely to come undone.

Behavioural profiling is one of the best ways of spotting talent, but firms should preferably use tools that take the process deeper. The best techniques not only show up an individual’s conscious behaviours (their ‘self-concept’, or how they wish to be perceived), but also their deep or subconscious behaviours – for example, the ‘default’ behaviour that prevails over time rather than just at the time of profiling. This way, a firm can understand an individual’s real motivators and preferred style of behaving, which is essential knowledge in developing succession plans.

Many firms require partners to be able to generate new business and also to take a collaborative approach with clients and fellow lawyers. Where an individual’s preferred pattern of behaviour was more dominating and authoritarian, it is clear that a change is needed. If you consider an individual’s behavioural styles alongside their experience and skills set, it is much easier to create a suitable role and skill path for them and it makes the retention battle much easier.

Once all of this is in place, the team can develop a succession plan and associated personal development plans, which enable individuals to take responsibility for their own development. This ownership, when combined with an effective retention/motivation process, results in an effective transparent talent planning process.

Good succession planning can deliver two goals. First, from an organisational perspective, it can provide retention of talent and overcome attrition through demotivation and uncertainty, as well as increasing the performance of the team. Second, individuals benefit through development and ownership of their own success. Being proactive in succession planning is crucial. In an environment where people provide the only competitive advantage, a firm’s ability to develop, reward constructively and meet individuals’ aspirations can make all the difference.

Georgina Armytage is an HR consultant at Longbridge International