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Global Korn Ferry succession study points to reasons why promotions fail

An in-depth global study used as the basis of the report shows that only half of respondents (51 percent) are confident that their organization knows which candidates they should be investing in as potential future leaders, and only 52 percent are confident they have identified those who are “ready now” for specific roles.

“While it’s true to say that most high potentials are high performers, it does not follow that performance is the only indicator of potential,” said Jim Peters, Senior Partner and global head for succession management at Korn Ferry. “Promoting the right people is key in ensuring a smooth transition in the development of a future leadership pipeline.”

Survey respondents cited having the right competencies for a role as the No.1 factor for making a promotion decision, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) say that a lack of well-suited traits and dispositions for a company’s culture was the biggest reason promotions fail.

“The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are. It’s critical to take a whole-person perspective, particularly drivers and traits, as otherwise you run the risk of identifying the wrong talent,” said Stu Crandell, Senior Vice President of Global Offerings at Korn Ferry and the Korn Ferry Institute. “That can mean wasting years of organizational investment and leaders’ time developing for a role they won’t find engaging or successful.”

When considering who has the potential to rise to senior levels within an organization, Korn Ferry research points to seven key signs:

1) A track record of formative experiences

2) Learning agility

3) Self-awareness

4) Leadership traits

5) The drive to be a leader

6) Aptitude for logic and reasoning

7) Managing derailment risks

“All the seven signposts can be assessed and quantified. They enable us to predict which leaders have the greatest likelihood of rising up the ranks,” said Crandell. “Organizations can therefore be confident that their people investment is paying off.”

However, Korn Ferry recommends that company leaders look beyond the signposts of individual potential to the groups of people being considered for a succession management pool, including going deeper in an organization.

The Succession Matters survey showed that only 38 percent of respondents said their companies’ succession programs included mid-level managers.

“Companies need to identify those in their late 20s and early 30s who have the greatest potential to be future senior leaders, then manage their development and their careers to ensure they are ready and rounded when they need to be,” said Steve Newhall, managing partner, Leadership and Talent Consulting at Korn Ferry.

While identifying high-potential candidates remains a key focus for organizations, high-performing professionals also need to be identified and developed within their functional areas. Yet, the study showed only 13 percent of respondents say their companies’ succession programs included skilled professionals.

“The high professionals are the ones that are very difficult to replace because they are your industry experts, so it's hard to replace that knowledge,” said Paul Van Katwyk, Senior Partner at Korn Ferry. “You need to value and foster these people, making sure that you are giving them just as much attention as your critical leaders.”

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