How to Create a Successful Talent Development Plan

By Jason Richmond, Founder, Ideal Outcomes Inc.

You’ve developed a robust succession planning process including picking the right people to participate and train, deciding on the right tool to use, and identifying high potential employees.

Unfortunately, that is where many succession planning programs begin and end. There is not much value to identifying high potentials if you are not going to develop them.

Developing your talent takes effort and diligence. While creating a development plan isn’t hard, executing, sustaining, and measuring its effectiveness is. Accountability is also key and is complicated by the fact that with a high potential program, accountability is shared and multi-faceted.

The executive team, the employee’s mentor, the employee’s coach, human resources, and the employee are the key owners of the program. The employee’s manager also plays a role, but this is in a support or facilitation capacity.

Let’s look at each role in more detail.

1. The Executive Team: When it comes to developing talent, the executive team often takes a back seat, and nothing could be further from what is needed. The executive team needs to actively participate in the high-potential program and not just in talent identification. More specifically, they should:
  • Meet one-on-one with every high potential employee at least once a year.
  • Set expectations for the development process.
  • Discuss high potential employee development at least quarterly and review status of development plans in executive team meetings.
  • Personally mentor high potentials who are targeted for executive roles.
  • Identify one or two executives who can serve as “champions” for action learning or project leadership assignments.
  • Hold their direct reports accountable for enabling developmental activities and assignments.
  • Possibly be assigned a defined set of high potentials to work with and meet with regularly.

2. The Mentor: The most successful high potential programs are supported by mentors. In fact, a recent Accenture study found that 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies use internal mentoring programs to develop high potential employees. The role of the mentor is to guide, support, and facilitate the employee’s development. The mentor, usually a seasoned, tenured leader, provides perspective, helps remove barriers, and offers political insights and savvy. Consider having a mentoring steering committee to guide this process, assign the mentors, and monitor overall effectiveness. Mentors should:
  • Touch base regularly with their mentee—weekly is ideal, but a couple of times a month can suffice.
  • Help the mentee articulate and define career goals.
  • Provide advice around the “unwritten” rules of career advancement.
  • Help remove barriers when, as an example, an employee’s manager is blocking the employee from taking on special assignments.
  • Introduce the employee to key players with whom they should network and build relationships.

3. The Coach: In some programs, the mentor/coach is a dual role. That can work, but ideally the coach is much more hands on in the development process. The coach can provide an important long-term perspective, but also can help the employee focus on immediate skill or competency needs that otherwise could derail their progress. Coaches can identify quick wins and provide regular feedback on how to maneuver the organization’s culture and informal hierarchy. In other words, the mentor can advise the employee on what the culture typically expects, and the coach can help guide them on how to be successful within this environment.

4. Human Resources: Organizations need to figure out which players in HR truly own and are accountable to the development process. Is it the HR business partner, Learning and Development, the HR executive, or someone else? Once the players are identified, the organization needs to decide their role. HR is a critical player in succession planning and the right HR person can also make or break the development program success. This role will vary depending on the number of high potentials in the program, the size of the organization, and its overall structure, but in general these are functions they can play:
  • Key member of the mentor steering committee.
  • Serve as the Coach assigned to several high potentials.
  • Reviewing and providing feedback on the development plan or leading the creation of the development plan in partnership with the assigned executive and the high potential employee.
  • Selecting, coaching and training the mentors.
  • Reporting on overall progress of the program to the executive team.
  • Ensuring Talent Acquisition is kept in the loop on high potentials’ readiness for promotion so that internal talent is constantly considered for appropriate openings.
  • Coordinating rotation assignments.
  • Orienting high potential employees to the program.

5. The High Potential Employee: High potential employees should be expected to own their development. A solid orientation program will give them a road map to follow, and drive their journey. Being open to feedback is a critical skill as is a growth mindset. They likely will not have been selected for the program if they did not possess these attributes, but they need to be cognizant of their own initiative and any potential burn out. In general, they own:
  • Their development plan.
  • Tracking and reporting on their progress.
  • Asking for help when needed. (Not always something Hi Pots are good at.)
  • Identifying competency gaps or other training needs.
  • Being willing to take on assignments that truly stretch them.
  • Taking risks.
  • Completing assignments.
  • Being honest if they realize the “fast-track” is not for them.

6. The High Potential Employee’s Manager: A mistake many organizations make is giving primary responsibility of the high potential employee’s development to their direct manager. The direct manager rarely, has the bandwidth needed to execute on this development since they are already developing and directing their entire team and developing the high potential employee is a unique set of skills that the immediate manager may not even possess. There is also the emotional side to be considered. Not every manager is able to accept the fact that one of their employees has greater potential than they themselves have, this can create tension or even conflict. What the manager needs to focus on is:
  • Supporting the development plan by rethinking some of the assignments that the high potential employee may not be able to complete on top of their development assignments.
  • Not hoarding talent. If the high potential needs to participate in a rotation assignment, help make it happen.
  • Being a sounding board for the employee to help reduce stress and burn out.
  • Being an encouraging partner in the process.

According to HR thought leader John Sullivan, recruiting has as much as a 50 percent failure rate. Executives fail at that abysmal 50 percent rate within 18 months.

What other business process would you allow a 50 percent failure rate? Developing our internal talent is a sure way to offset this expensive proposition while winning the war on talent and retaining top people. Talent development is a certain way to create a unique competitive advantage for our organizations .