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The way we succession plan is outdated and unnecessarily complex


The CIPD describes succession planning as a critical component of talent management and organisational strategy.  It’s well known in the HR Toolkit and almost every organisation I’ve worked for completes succession planning.  But at the same time, I hear these frustrations from organisations:   All the energy goes into running the process, but often nothing is done to develop the people. The successors identified rarely move into the roles they are assigned to – so what was the point? The process is not scalable below the senior levels We have not shifted the dial on diversity in our leadership population We invest in those that sit in the “top right” of the 9-box grid, and let’s be honest, do nothing with the rest. The concept of “Potential” is unclear   If this is your experience too – what should you do instead? The concept of succession planning isn’t wrong, but the way we succession plan is outdated and unnecessarily complex.   Here are 4 steps to dramatically improve your succession planning – as long as you can shift your mindset first!   Shift the intention of your succession plan. Be clear on the business problem you’re trying to solve.  Simply “identifying critical roles and building talent pipelines to ensure a seamless transition when handovers are required” is not enough any more. Research from the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report in 2020 found that: By 2025, 85 million jobs could be replaced by machines, and 97 million new roles may emerge. 50% of workers will need to reskill by 2025. 40% of these workers will require reskilling programmes of up to six months to transition to their new role. Core skills are set to change by as much as 40% by 2025 To stay ahead in the game, organisations should stop thinking of the unit of work in terms of fixed, static jobs, and start seeing them as a mix of skills that can be adapted as work keeps changing. This means the intention of succession planning should be “identifying the critical capabilities and building talent pools of those capabilities to ensure a seamless transition of people into roles/opportunites”.  Moving away from job roles and towards capabilities – because job roles will change.  It’s also easier to scale this approach to succession planning outside of Senior Roles.   Identify and Measure Capabilities There are two steps here – knowing the capabilities you need, and knowing how much of those capabilities you already have.  There’s a danger this can become overwhelming very quickly, so the first step is crucial.   Focus on the critical capabilities needed to solve critical business problems – this could be an immediate problem or a future opportunity the organisation wants to grasp.  Do not try to capture every capability.  Only those that are most critical to the business.   Objectively assess and evaluate those critical capabilities that currently exist across the organisation.  A quality behavioural skills index similar to Harrison Assessments can do this very well, and its easily scalable.  This level of insight will help determine succession candidates as well as identify any at-risk roles, teams or business units.  Not a word about “Potential”, and not a 9-Box grid in sight; removing the frustration of Senior Leaders who don’t see the relevance of this process.   Develop Capabilities Because you’ve objectively understood what critical capabilities exist in your organisation, you can pinpoint your development efforts to address those gaps.  Organisations that plan for skills or capabilities instead of Headcount develop better plans – from considering how to develop those capabilities and estimating the time and cost associated with upskilling or reskilling employees.  Making the development of “successors” so much easier, and more likely to happen.   Match People to Opportunities Succession planning shouldn’t operate in a vacuum; it should be interwoven into a larger talent framework.  Include career conversation in your succession planning process, rather than an (often) afterthought of a performance review conversation.  These should be open conversations between employees and Leaders to uncover the individual’s aspirations, needs and preferences.  Include the critical capabilities in these conversations, and explore potential career opportunities through the lens of these capabilities. Resulting in an adult-adult conversation about aspirations and opportunities and removing the secrecy traditionally behind succession planning.  As opportunities arise, the organisation knows who has the necessary capabilities and who’s interested in those opportunities! This reframe around succession planning, projects the organisation into the 21st-century labour market and the era of career consumerism.  The Measure of Success of succession planning is no longer whether individuals move into the roles identified for them – it’s whether the organisation has the critical capabilities to successfully compete – avoiding the accusation of succession planning being outdated and unnecessarily complex.  Now doesn’t that sound like a place you want to be? Did you enjoy this blog?  You might also be interested in my other ideas and suggestions.  Take a look at my other blogs on my website.  You’ll find thought leadership on topics like leadership, talent development, personal development and the future of work.

Transforming Career Frameworks for the 21st Century

The landscape of careers is changing dramatically, evolving from predictable paths to career consumerism. However, the methods we use to manage careers are still based on outdated systems and assumptions. In this blog, I’ll explore the problems of current career management practices and the hidden costs for both individuals and businesses.  If you are still using career paths, then this will help you transform your career frameworks for the 21st century. Challenges of Current Career Management  Existing approaches are falling short for several reasons. They were not designed to cope with the rapid evolution of job skills and roles.  The WEF Future of Jobs 2023 report found employers anticipate a structural labour market churn of 23% of jobs in the next five years.  Jobs will continue to change and new roles will be created meaning a lot of career paths will need constant updating. There’s still a heavy reliance on managers, who often lack the skills to hold career conversations and hoard talent to prevent losing people from their teams.  Let alone know how to help employees navigate their careers in an organisation with politics, hierarchies and culture to understand. Finally, the focus of internal mobility tends to be on matching employees with existing vacancies, rather than collaboratively creating future career possibilities through genuine collaboration with employees. In this era of the Career Consumer, this won’t be tolerated.  Millennials prefer career exploration to climbing the traditional ladder, and Gen Z wants flexibility to decide their schedule and earn money across multiple jobs. The Hidden Costs and Impact  The consequences of traditional career management don’t just impact negatively on the individual, it harm businesses too. A static and complicated career framework often leads people to deprioritise it, resulting in hidden costs like increased turnover rates, less relevant skills, and lower job satisfaction. Poor career management contributes to the growing issue of high turnover, as we saw in the recent ‘great resignation’ triggered by the pandemic. Career uncertainty makes the problem worse, leading to higher levels of employee anxiety and reducing overall performance.   The Future of Career Frameworks There is a real need for a different approach to career management. Shifting from traditional career paths to a more dynamic career engagement model is important. Here are my suggestions for creating a career framework fit for the 21st century: Dynamic and Collaborative Careers: Break away from rigid career structures and adopt two-way discussions between managers and individuals to actively shape careers.  Conversations that discover the individual’s expertise, their aspirations and the organisation’s needs.   Knowing what the employee wants, and what the organisation needs, then finding that spot in the middle and what compromises both parties might make to get a mutually beneficial outcome. Real, Human Coaching: Replace static resource centres on an Intranet with active guidance through human beings like career coaches. Recognise the skill in coaching and leverage the coach’s broad experience across different fields for real-time insights. Nurture Networks and Connections: Stop assigning mentors and start developing your employees’ ability to grow real connections and networks. Help them to foster their network of connections that naturally lead to sponsorships, mentorships, and relationships, creating a more adaptable support system. Human Involvement in Adaptive Systems: Recognise the need for increased human involvement in career management processes. Human specialists act as “super connectors,” enhancing information flow, problem-solving, and fostering a bottom-up approach to innovation. As we shift away from rigid career paths, it’s important to accept the dynamic and ambiguous nature of today’s work environment. Companies can unlock untapped potential by adopting a collaborative, human-centric approach to career management. This approach can empower employees to co-create their careers, improving flexibility, diversity, and responsiveness within the organisation. Career Frameworks in the 21st Century need to be adaptable to various organisational contexts and acknowledge the individual’s aspirations as well as the organisation’s needs.  This approach is better placed to create a foundation for a dynamic, responsive, and human-centric workplace.

Why great customer and employee experience needs to start with your recruitment and selection processes.

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It’s becoming more widespread to think about the candidate experience when we’re hiring.  But what about the connection between the customer experience and engaged employees? Why does great customer and employee experience need to start with your recruitment and selection processes? The selection process for supermarket front line workers has traditionally revolved around customer service and communication skills, teamwork, working under pressure, problem-solving and initiative.  As technology has changed jobs in supermarkets, these traditional skills are becoming less important; but many supermarket’s selection processes still assess these skills.  Meaning supermarkets will not achieve real levels of employee engagement – and with disengaged employees, they will not deliver the level of customer experience needed to be successful…… This is based on my own experience of working in supermarkets during this weird and wonderful global pandemic.  A growing part of the supermarkets’ business is Online Grocery Shopping, where groceries are picked in store by employees and delivered to customers’ homes.  But for supermarkets, this area of the business has a lower profit margin, so much of the process is automated to keep costs low. I went through the selection process for an “Instore Shopper”.  I completed an online multiple choice questionnaire and competency based interview looking at my: Ability to listen, build rapport and trust Ability to solve problems Innovation and creativity skills Desire to help and support other people Which is strange because jobs in Online Grocery teams do not require these skills.  In fact, I’ve seen people who have these skills find the reality frustrating and disengaging because they cannot use these skills for most of their working days.  Here are the reasons why: Online Shopping is driven by process efficiency and digitalisation Profit in this business is dependent on automated, easily replicated, standardised processes. Creativity and innovation is not required, because processes are not to be deviated from.  A system calculates the most efficient way to pick customer orders; work is sent to employees via handsets to follow exactly and avoid errors or exceptions. Performance is measured by productivity, speed and accuracy. Performance is measured by efficiency, not relationships. Store based Online Staff very rarely see or talk to customers as contact (if it is needed) is via a centralised call centre.  Their performance is measured by “scan rates”, “Items per hour” “delivery time windows” and “stock availability”.  Performance metrics help to ensure adherence to those standard processes, feedback is given if performance falls short of expected performance measures. So what happens when you hire people for their skill sets, but the job doesn’t require them to use those skills? The reality is low levels of engagement, minimal performance levels and high levels of attrition.  For an industry built on low margins and high volumes, this brings lots of unnecessary cost and waste into the process. But most retailers publicise a commitment to employee engagement and wellbeing?  The majority of these programmes provide extrinsic rewards, and very little is said about intrinsic rewards; yet it’s intrinsic motivation that has the greater influence on employee engagement.   Intrinsic motivation comes from doing an activity for its inherent satisfaction rather than for some separable consequence; and I believe the foundation for intrinsic motivation are people who feel enjoyment from the work they are asked to do, and the skills they are required to apply. My experience over the past few months has shown that the people who do stay in these jobs are those who, through a happy coincidence, also poses the following traits – Enthusiastic – The tendency to be eager and excited toward one’s own goals Flexible –  The tendency to easily adapt to change Persistent –  The tendency to be tenacious despite encountering significant obstacles Precise –  The enjoyment of work that requires being exact and the tendency to be detail oriented And also have: The tendency to be productive while still paying sufficient attention to detail – Prolific Quality  The tendency to accept guidance intended to improve performance – Receives Correction And finally enjoy work and a working environment that involves: Repetition – The tolerance of monotonous work: the same single activity is repeated over and over (e.g. assembly line) Pressure Tolerance – The level of comfort related to working under deadlines and busy schedules Tempo – The enjoyment of work that needs to be done quickly Tolerance Of Structure – The tolerance of following rules, schedules, and procedures created by someone else So to really create a positive employee experience and develop engaged employees, supermarkets need to rethink their Recruitment and Selection processes.  Be honest as to the skills needed for success and intrinsic motivation in their jobs.  Hiring people who will find intrinsic motivation from the nature of the work is the starting point.  It’s no longer good enough to think broadly about the type of skills needed for an industry, as more automation is deployed, jobs change and skill sets needed for success in those jobs change too. How can you do this?  This is one of our areas of expertise at Blue Grape – we use a job specific psychological assessment to measure intrinsic behavioural factors that drive individual engagement, and also identify whether the candidate has the skills, competencies needed for success.  Because this is the starting point identify people who will find your vacancies intrinsically motivating. In my next blog post I’ll talk about the leadership capabilities needed in retail to leverage those skills, and provide a working environment that people also find intrinsically rewarding – because even the best selected people can experience low levels of engagement if Leadership Capabilities are misaligned.

Boosting your Brand using your Employee Experience

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We all form expectations of a company based on what we hear or see about them.  Particularly in these days of social media, it’s become so much easier to get a feeling about a company before we even interact with them.  I believe great brands have one thing in common, their people believe in them.  We know a good employer reputation boosts the consumer brand, and we also know that good customer experience boosts an employer brand.  But how about boosting your brand using your employee experience? Let’s look at two different retailers as an example: Online retailer of (very) fast fashion Boo hoo.  Google description: Shop boohoo’s range of womens’ and mens’ clothing for the latest fashion trends you can totally do your thing in, with 100s of new styles landing every day! The first thing you see on their landing page – “biggest ever sale”, “50% off”, “£5 and under”. My 15 year old daughter wants low cost fashion that changes as the trends change.  Perfect match.  She doesn’t expect high levels of customer service speaking to people – god forbid as a teenager that’s the last thing she wants. Now consider John Lewis’s description: A brand of high-end department stores operating throughout Great Britain.  Shop new season trends in homeware, furniture and fashion at John Lewis & Partners. Discover the latest beauty products and browse must-have electricals. Their landing page currently has pictures of gold jewellery, champagne, cards, hearts – all for Valentine’s day on the 14th February.  Scroll lower and you see pictures of beautiful kitchens, families and electrical gadgets.  Only at the bottom of the page do you see anything with a price on it. Do you see what I’m saying?  Before I interact as a customer I’ve formed some expectations about how my interactions with this company is going to feel like.  Now it’s the job of the customer facing teams to live up to my expectations in the way they interact with me. For Boo Hoo, I’m going to expect quick service, low prices and an easy way to purchase or return goods.  Fast fashion, and fast service. For John Lewis, I also want quick and easy service, an easy way to purchase or return goods.  But look what else they promise me: I’m expecting a human to chat to me, offer me advice and suggestions and generally help me feel good about myself and my life!  If this is how the brand wants their customer facing teams to “be” with their customers – what’s the best way to achieve this?  How do we make sure people behave in a certain way, time and time again? Let them experience what you mean.  Give them the same level of experience as an employee that you want them to give to your customers.  This experience also needs to flow into the way they are Managed and Led.  The extrinsic motivators that form part of the employee experience of people working in Boo Hoo and John Lewis could be different, but to spark intrinsic motivation in people – and in the process, create a positive employee experience – that requires similar leadership skills irrespective of your brand! Relying on extrinsic motivators alone will not deliver engaged employees –  they’ll more than likely need constant prodding in order to deliver and whereas this approach may work for a short time, but it’s unsustainable in the long run. Not every job can be rewarded with cash or perks, particularly if your brand is about low cost fast fashion. Boosting your brand through your employee experience is easier with quantitative and qualitative evidence of the relationships between leadership skills and employee and customer experiences – and arguably the key to being heard and taken seriously.  We can provide quantitative and qualitative evidence of the impact Leadership has on your employee and customer experience.  Then we show you the leadership skills needed to increase your employee and customer experience.   So go on, push itself forwards into an area where traditionally you might not have contributed before.  The world is your oyster, and your customer’s need you!

Why Vision, Engagement and Leadership should be at the heart of your Business Recovery Plan

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There’s no need for me to describe these past 12 months.  We know.  We’ve experienced it.  We’ve dragged ourselves through it.  And we’re just coming up for air and thinking “what’s next?”.  It’s these reasons the foundation of an organisation’s post pandemic recovery plan should be Leadership, Vision and Employee Engagement. Previously close knit teams have suddenly worked remotely.  Our sense of competence and control has been whipped away from us.  Plans were shelved.  Contingencies developed and changed.  Businesses have seen significant restrictions on their ability to trade and some have been unable to trade at all. Organisational Leaders and Business Owners have felt tremendous pressure across the globe.  For some time, we’ve focused on surviving the fight.  But we can’t stay in survival mode forever.  How can we now refocus and emerge match-fit and future-proofed?  It’s time to focus on recovery and growth, despite the disruption the whole world has faced. There are three key areas that I think should be the foundation of an organisation’s post pandemic recovery plan : A Common Vision Leadership Employee Engagement Before we can head in a new, stronger direction – we need to know what that direction is.  A common purpose is the starting point to creating a sense of achieving positive outcomes.  It’s not unusual for our visions to fall away during times of crisis.  When a previously agreed strategy is knocked so far off course by such an unprecedented event, we end up with an overwhelming sense of uncertainty – and the COVID-19 crisis has most certainly done that. Even amongst the pandemic, there’s been some powerful examples of work cultures rising above the disruption and uncertainty; clinical teams in the front line, manufacturers pivoting to produce urgently needed medical supplies, and volunteer armies rising up to help those less mobile or connected in their communities. “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” -Jack Welch Now’s the time to revisit and renew your organisation’s vision in light of a new operating environment.  What is the vision, the light, you can give your people so they can follow and feel a sense of direction.  If your people don’t know where you’re trying to get to – why would they make the journey? Leadership Having a common vision is one thing – how do you bring it alive?  You’ll need a strong and aligned leadership team to do this.  But it’s possible your Leaders may be fatigued, uncertain and concerned for their future.  Even the best leaders are probably needing a boost.  Leadership is about achieving through others, but if your Leaders are empty and drained, they are not going to be able to engage and achieve through others. Invest some time and energy into them and their development.  Help them understand themselves, their values, their beliefs and their triggers.  This is a time when leaders could be driven to busy themselves – meetings, plans, operations issues – fears of vulnerability that shift them toward self-preservation and a desire to maintain control “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born-that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” —Warren Bennis Research shows that in a business-as-usual environment, compassionate leaders perform better and foster more loyalty and engagement by their teams.   However, compassion becomes especially critical during a crisis. Employe Engagement We know the evidence of higher levels of engagement and business performance.   Gallup research shows us that companies with highly engaged employees outperform their competitors by 147%.  If that wasn’t enough we saw that as the economy began to rebound after 2009, having an engaged workforce became a strong differentiator in earnings per share (EPS). Companies with engaged workforces seemed to have an advantage in regaining and growing EPS at a faster rate than their industry equivalents. Conversely, companies with average engagement levels saw no increased advantage over their competitors in the economic recovery. “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”- Simon Sinek Engaged employees think about the organisation as a whole, how they fit in and how they can contribute to this evolving organisation.  They have the best ideas, they make changes and they make a difference.  Just what is needed right now… Some ideas to take away. Bring your Leadership Team together (virtually is fine) If all members of a team truly understand how each other tick, and what direction they need to move in –  then surely they must perform better. Forget your usual anonymous engagement survey, it’s costly and takes too long to get the results.  Choose a smart and agile approach to understand what’ll engage and retain each individual and how they feel right now. Talk to your people about your organisations’ vision and purpose.  Use zoom to have conversation with groups – not only Town Hall events – let people quiz you and ask questions. Role model compassionate leadership in how you make decisions, set priorities and communicate. Is the foundation of your organisation’s post pandemic recovery plan built on Leadership, Vision and Employee Engagement?  It doesn’t need to be costly and complicated, just people focused.  You could start off with understanding your own Emotional Intelligence skills?  Click here to request your own personalised Emotional Intelligence report and start on your journey!

Post pandemic rules of employee engagement

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Digital transformation has enabled organisations to completely reimagine the way they work and manage people. Digital collaboration software allows us to work from any location and reliable video conferencing platforms help us communicate. We have a data centric approach to decision-making, powered by a combination of human and artificial intelligence. The voice of the consumer – employee and candidate – is ever stronger and the role of organisations under increasing scrutiny. Yet it took a global pandemic for us to admit that the way people work today has changed, and now we’re realising the way we manage people needs to change too. So in this new normal or hybrid working, what are the post pandemic rules of employee engagement? Have people’s expectations of work shifted? Well I don’t think so. Research commissioned by Manpower Group (Closing the Skills Gap: What Workers Want) tells us about employees’ expectations pre-Covid. The research showed that employees’ expectation of work varies by age, gender, geography, and where they are in their career lifecycle. Common drivers are featured throughout the research, but varied in importance depending on age and career lifecycle. More pay Flexible hours Challenging work Further my career Strong employer brand Develop my skills Good boss Good place to work Shorter commute Great team Flexible location What attracts workers to an organisation can also be what engages and makes them stay. Sometimes we confuse ourselves with our complicated definitions of employee engagement. We forget that what drives employee engagement is often personal to the individual; and this research demonstrated once again that employee engagement is not a “one size fits all” pyramid model. What employees wanted from work before the pandemic, hasn’t changed because OF the pandemic. So what has changed instead? Employees have their own hierarchy of needs. Deep down we’ve always known that people are individuals and have their own unique expectations. We’ve always said that effective leadership is about flexing your style to suit the situation and the individual. Yet our traditional approach to employee engagement was based on static engagement models assuming engagement could be increased by doing certain things. Real engagement at work is an individual measure. Each employee values different drivers to a different extent, and requires different levels of each driver to be present. In addition, research has shown that employees who enjoy at least 75% of their job are approximately 3 times more likely to succeed than employees who enjoy less than 75% of their job. Drawbacks of traditional employee engagement surveys. 1. The assumption that creating engaged employees is the organisation’s responsibility. Engagement comes from within the individual, therefore the responsibility for engagement should be a combination of the organisation’s and the individual’s efforts and actions. Traditional engagement surveys only focus on general levels of employee satisfaction and/or perceptions of the organisation and management. They don’t consider that engagement is influenced by two or more complementary traits working together to produce an outcome. 2. Surveys are anonymous in order to encourage honest answers. Anonymous surveys prevent managers from discussing with individuals how their needs can be aligned with the organisation’s objectives. Managers need to understand an individual’s expectations, preferences, and behaviours to have targeted conversations aimed at increasing engagement and retention. 3. Anonymous data is passed to Managers to analyse and develop action plans. Managers don’t often have the time and data analytics skills to analyse volumes of anonymous data from surveys, particularly when some of that data relates to their own personal performance. 4. Anonymous surveys can create a closed culture and damage the psychological contract. Asking employees to anonymously feedback on their perceptions of the organisation and their Line Manager’s performance, does not support a relationship of mutual trust and respect. The anonymity of the survey creates an atmosphere of distrust or anxiety – “why does this survey need to be anonymous?”. Asking employees to comment on their Line Manager’s performance often creates psychological tension between the manager and the employee. All of which can create distrust, tension and damage the psychological contract, influencing the wider organisational culture and climate. 5. Engagement surveys are notorious for low response rates. Traditional employee engagement surveys require much effort and time to obtain good response rates. Often employees cite feeling pressured into completing the survey. Reasons for low participation include reasons such as “no one listens’ or “no action is taken”. Employees do not feel benefit from completing the survey. What are the alternative rules of employee engagement in the post pandemic world? Traditional definitions and ways of measuring employee engagement are no longer relevant in this post pandemic world. We need to look at engagement from the individual employee’s perspective, understanding what is important to the individual and to what degree each important factor is currently fulfilled. Employee Engagement is a shared responsibility between the employee and the organisation; and high levels of engagement throughout the organisation need candid conversations between managers and team members about what each person wants and what engages them. Our survey tool asks questions about the individual’s work preferences and also identifies the behaviours that the individual needs to fulfil their own expectations. Both employees and managers learn together what job factors individual employees enjoy and the degree to which they are met; as well as identify how the organisation can help fulfil the employee’s expectations and what the employee needs to do. This fundamentally changes the employee’s motivation to complete the survey, as they personally benefit from the survey. Simple to read and easy to access reports. On completion of our survey each employee will receive a personal “Your Greatest Strengths” report, providing them with an immediate, tangible benefit for completing the survey. Both individuals and managers also receive the main report, explaining the internal dynamics of engagement for each individual, enabling an effective conversation that sparks individual motivation and engagement. There is no need for managers to analyse data or interpret reports. This focus on mutual needs leads to mutual respect, shared responsibility, and an employment relationship that

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