Ten Insights About Executive Talent Management
Greg Kesler
Human Resource Planning

The record is there for all to see: The best baseball teams succeed on the basis of deep bench strength and skillful movement of exceptional players throughout the system. And because business leaders have similar ambitions with regard to their management teams, careful attention to executive staffing and development is essential for organizational success.

The pursuit of leadership bench strength is not a race for talent. It is a steady, ongoing labor that requires discipline, decisiveness and responsible risk-taking. Succession planning needs to be refocused away from replacement planning to include a more comprehensive set of assessment and development practices that support the entire pipeline or flow of talent.

In ten years of research and consulting with more than 25 major companies, we have observed varied approaches to succession planning, with significantly different outcomes. This article presents ten insights about the approaches taken and the different results achieved.

The New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves baseball teams have competed brilliantly on the basis of deep bench strength and the development of exceptional players in their minor-league organizations. While occasional championship teams buy their way in with newly acquired veteran teams, the Yankees and the Braves have demonstrated the power of relentless scouting, growing the most-talented farm teams and skillfully managing the movement of players through the system, with a constant eye on the depth of bench hitters and the pitching in the bullpens.

They also occasionally acquire seasoned, star-quality players to fill specific gaps, but do so as part of a larger strategy for building depth. From 1991 to 2001, the Braves won their division in all but one year, while winning four league championships and one World Series. The Yankees won four World Series in the six years between 1996 and 2001.

Business leaders have similar ambitions with regard to their management teams. The leadership pipeline has received a great deal of attention for more than 25 years (Walker, 1992; Mahler & Wrightnour, 1973), but most leadership teams can only dream about the kind of depth that the perennial champions of baseball (and The General Electric Company) have achieved.

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