Spring 2017
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CTDO Magazine

On the Short List

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

CTDOs are tasked with preparing a pipeline of C-suite candidates capable of leading the organization forward at any time. Strong succession planning and development practices that support smooth leadership transitions and build a culture of development across the entire enterprise are critical. But readying C-level talent to take the next step isn't easy. The Conference Board explores how organizations can successfully build succession planning that supports candidates for high-impact roles in Is Your C-Suite Pipeline Ready?

Based on survey responses of 94 public companies, expert interviews, and in-depth case studies and examples, the report reveals that personalized learning experiences that challenge and stretch an individual's capabilities offer the greatest impact to a leader's development. The most effective experiences include expansion of job scope, special stretch assignments, or pairing with an executive coach to facilitate the learning process. While apprenticeship with the CEO is not a common feature of leadership development programs, it is among the five most effective features, along with job rotation, expansion of job responsibilities, international assignments, and special projects/stretch assignments. Conversely, attendance at executive education courses is frequently used but ranked among the least effective program elements.


"As business environments continue to change amidst uncertainty and increasing levels of complexity, broader opportunities for candidates in varying contexts offer better preparation for candidates," the report states.

So, how can chief talent development officers ensure a strong list of ready-now leaders? In other words, are organizations developing the right people to take over the C-suite?

Eighty-three percent of survey participants maintain a short list of senior executives considered ready for a possible succession to a major C-level role—including the CEO. To develop these lists, 81 percent of companies use recent performance reviews. However, the Conference Board study finds that organizations expand the use of data beyond assessment and performance metrics to gain more holistic perspectives of potential candidates. More than half of companies surveyed use a more varied approach, relying on 360-degree surveys and mentorship and coaching feedback. Less frequently, organizations use assessments such as behavioral interviews and employee engagement scores.

To jump-start succession initiatives in their organizations, the Conference Board advises CTDOs and executive leaders to consider several questions:

  • What are the current business challenges or drivers that are pushing your need for a successful succession plan? How is your external business environment changing? What workforce demographics are shifting?
  • What are key business strategic objectives of the organization for the next five to 10 years? What core skills/competencies will be necessary for your leaders to help achieve those objectives?
  • What are the skill levels of your current leadership ranks? What are the strengths and where do critical gaps exist? How will you address the gaps?
  • What programs and initiatives are in place to support the development of these skills in your leaders? What leadership levels will you focus on?
  • What does your succession plan look like? How is your board involved? What is the CTDO's involvement? What other business units are involved?
  • What would a successful C-suite succession look like? How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your succession plan? What are your evaluation criteria?
  • Does your organization plan to develop a culture of development and succession planning? What strategies will you incorporate to communicate and demonstrate these behaviors across the organization?
  • How do you see your organization's succession pipeline evolving in the future? How will you ensure that development investments are effectively managed over time and aligned with changing business priorities?


Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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