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Harnessing Data to Find Tomorrow’s Leaders

Sureish Nathan, Managing Director, DDI Singapore

Obtaining a promotion is often a cause for celebration for any employee as it’s a sign of recognition for their performance and dedication. Promotions are often made based on subjective judgement, as the individual’s manager makes recommendations on who has done well in their role, and who deserves a promotion. As a result, we might unintentionally promote a good performer in their current role or level, when the next level role actually requires different competencies, attributes, knowledge and experience to be successful.

Recent statistics have revealed that 40 percent of newly promoted managers and executives fail within 18 months of starting new jobs. This is particularly true for leaders who are transitioning from operational and functional mandates to strategic executive leadership - the emerging executives. These are your next-generation leaders who take on roles that have an organizational mandate with a wider span of influence, leaders who could potentially be groomed as C-suite successors.

The speed of business is driving companies to move employees with less tenured experience into executive roles faster than ever, and the ‘wrong’ promotion can be extremely costly and risky - especially when this is a result of only performance-based promotions, which can be prone to judgement bias. Avoiding and mitigating such risks require an objective and scientific talent evaluation process that considers all the data, rather than limited samples, to provide a holistic picture of the individual’s capabilities.

Talent analytics has the power to provide valuable insights, and enable companies to identify with far greater accuracy, the most promising leadership candidates to take the company into the future.

Data Driven Innovation to Unlock the Leader Within

Let us take a step back and address a common misconception—in that displaying competency in a current role does not necessarily translate into capability at the next level.

It’s important to remember that a job transition comprises of more than an expansion of an employee’s job scope. With each leadership transition, leaders face significant changes in their job complexity, span of influence, managing organizational politics and people leadership. The difficulty of building new supportive networks, as well as greater ambiguity at higher leadership levels, vague job descriptions, and unclear expectations make these transitions more precarious. Newly-promoted leaders arrive in top spots with a track record of success behind them. Nonetheless, many are surprised by their new roles, and struggle to adjust to unfamiliar demands. In fact, our research has revealed that only a third of leaders found themselves to be very effective at overcoming transitional challenges.

It is crucial that organizations first identify the correct capabilities to address the future strategic business priorities of the organization. So what does success look like for emerging executives when they take on the strategic leadership roles? The capabilities or Success Profile (knowledge, experience, competencies and attributes) required of a leader must be defined not only in the context of the target leadership level the individual is taking on, but also the strategic and cultural priorities of the organization. In other words, different leadership levels in different organizations require different and new capabilities. For example, a strategic leader in a company focusing on global expansion will need to possess global acumen and the ability to establish strategic direction and cultivating networks and partnerships. Contrast this to a strategic leader in another organization focusing on turning around its reputation, who will require competencies such as energizing the organization, customer focus and leading change.

Objectively assessing leadership capability against this success profile is therefore paramount, and this is where data can help by providing insights into identifying who fits the leadership role for the right context - the essence of leadership assessment, selection and development.

Organizations then must harvest and make sense of the data. By using objective parameters, we can better gauge the inherent attributes and strengths of individuals. This is important as leadership contexts and requirements change at each stage of the organizational leadership roadmap. Data-driven insights aligned with the business context also ensure that internal leadership development programs are targeted and laser-focused to develop the capabilities and drive the results most critical to the organization.

Ultimately, the datasets used must be linked to the business, and what success and impact look like for the business. The strategic use of people data can solve business problems, provided organizations make their leadership decisions based on sound data analysis.

Towards a new Philosophy

The forces of technology and demographic shifts are challenging us to identify a different class of leaders altogether. As the nature of work evolves today in a digitalized economy, new dimensions to enduring skill-sets and competencies are fast-evolving and how we identify and shape the leaders of tomorrow is critical for survival. By taking full advantage of data to develop their leaders, organizations will be better equipped to meet their rapidly changing business needs.

This article was first published in The Business Times. (01 Jan 2020)

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