Meeting in a Box: Succession Planning

May 29, 2013 6:00 pm

Meeting in a Box: Succession Planning[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and subscribers.]

This month, we are giving you the latest trends, data and best practices on effective succession planning to ensure more diverse leadership at your organization. We have identified three key areas to focus on: early talent identification/external recruiting; talent development/mentoring/sponsorship; and goal setting. We also recommend you review our web seminar on succession planning, which featured IBM, Kaiser Permanente and CVS Caremark.

[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and subscribers.]


Getting a diverse pipeline to the top of your organization starts with the initial hires of those with management potential. Companies on The DiversityInc Top 50 Companies for Diversity list show consistent progress in their hiring of people from underrepresented groups. For example, their hiring of Blacks, Latinos and Asians this year was up 16 percent, 36 percent and 25 percent, respectively, compared with last year.

The best practices consistently used by these companies to bring in talent include:

  • Working with colleges and universities (and high schools) to develop talent at early ages, especially in fields where gaps exist for underrepresented groups.
  • Having strong relationships with multicultural nonprofits and professional associations (including having senior executives sit on their boards).
  • Using resource groups to both find and on-board talented people from underrepresented groups. These groups are also valuable in developing leadership skills and in identifying people who might not be obvious for high-potential slots but who with added guidance and education could become leaders.

Some organizations don’t have the luxury of waiting to develop talent and feel an urgent need to get more diversity in senior management. Others are able to do both, focusing on long- and short-term benefits. If your company does hire executives externally and hopes to improve your diversity this way, it’s important to require diverse slates and not allow recruiters to tell you that they “couldn’t find any qualified candidates” in their rush to  use “time to fill” to get people into positions.

Guided Questions for Staff

If you use internal recruiters, do they receive cultural-competency training on a regular basis? Are they required to have diverse slates? How far down the line does accountability (and compensation) for increasing diversity fall?
Consider that if you require diverse slates from either internal or external recruiters, you must specify what those slates are. Some companies require one woman and one nonwhite person for every slate at a certain level and above. Others require a certain percentage of women or nonwhite people based on how many applicants there are. Also, be clear about what the rewards (compensation, promotion) are for meeting these requirements and what the penalties are (demotion, lack of compensation, even dismissal).

Are you evaluating your relationships with nonprofits and professional associations?
The types of relationships that yield valuable recruits are personal. While writing checks benefits nonprofits, getting involved with their boards or leadership creates lasting relationships that will help in your recruiting efforts.

Are you fully utilizing your resource groups?
Resource groups are excellent sources of finding talent and making sure people from underrepresented groups are comfortable in the corporate culture once hired. They also provide referrals and role models at job fairs and at colleges and universities.


Once you have the talent on board, are you fully realizing its potential? DiversityInc Top 50 data show that even at progressive companies, people from underrepresented groups often have higher rates of voluntary attrition. Why do they leave? Usually because they feel their chances of getting to the top are slim to none, and because they don’t perceive the corporate culture as welcoming.

What’s essential in the talent-development process is accountability from the top of the organization, often in the form of an executive diversity council, in setting and measuring goals. At most companies, the leaders also are directly involved in programs in which they meet with and help develop high-potentials from underrepresented groups.

DiversityInc Top 50 data show a direct correlation between increased management participation in formal, cross-cultural mentoring programs and increased diversity in executive levels. Mentoring is the most essential way to make a direct connection with senior executives and to help high-potentials mature. The cross-cultural element enables both the mentors and the mentees to better understand each other. Having cultural-competence training for both mentors and mentees is increasingly important, as are metrics to assess the success of the relationships.

Increasingly, organizations also are emphasizing sponsorship, political advocacy of a person from an underrepresented group. While formal sponsorship is difficult or impossible (since you can’t order someone to lobby for another person), companies increasingly are requiring their senior executives to sponsor a specific number (usually one to three) of people from underrepresented groups.

Guided Questions for Staff

Is your mentoring program effectively reaching high-potentials from underrepresented groups?
How many people are participating and do you measure race/ethnicity/gender of mentors and mentees? Are you giving them the right training to ensure they effectively communicate across cultures?

How are you measuring mentoring success?
Are you assessing retention, engagement and promotions of mentees versus those who don’t participate? Who is held accountable for mentoring progress? Are the metrics shared with senior executives?

How much exposure do your high-potentials from underrepresented groups have to your senior executives?
Have you considered other ways to encourage them to meet and get to know each other? Are the senior executives responsible for initiating and furthering sponsorship relationships?


As has often been stated, what gets measured gets done. In the case of increasing diversity in succession planning, without goals there will be no progress. Most companies determined to increase the diversity of the pipeline of the top use either their executive diversity council or a leadership group to set representational goals. Those goals can be a percentage (i.e., 30 percent more Latinos in the top three levels) or numerical additions (get Black and Asian representation in the top two levels), but they are not quotas. They require diverse slates, looking hard at what credentials are required for these positions and strong efforts to on-board, especially when executives from outside are brought in.

Some companies have devised creative solutions for opening up spots at the top levels. For example, a company that had no women at the top level (CEO and direct reports) saw no openings in the near future as all top leaders were effective and not planning to retire or leave at any time soon. So they expanded the CEO’s direct reports by elevating two positions, one of which was held by a woman.

Guided Questions for Staff

How well do you understand the available workforce for the underrepresented groups?
If your company, for example, is a technical one and you lack women at the top, are you cognizant of how many women with the backgrounds you need are graduating from school and staying in the workforce and how you can improve this equation?

Have you benchmarked the racial/ethnic and gender diversity of your top three levels against other organizations with similar workforces?
Your goals need to be in context, so it’s important to understand how your peers are doing.

Do you assess your progress from one level to the other and over time?
Don’t look at your numbers as a snapshot of this moment but as historical rates of progress. Assess which levels have had the most attrition and why.

[CLICK HERE to download a PDF of the full Meeting in a Box, our diversity-management training and educational tool available only to Benchmarking customers and subscribers.]