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How looking at data helped strengthen our leadership pipeline

How looking at data helped strengthen our leadership pipeline
By Peter Howell, Group General Manager Organisational Development - John Holland

When you ask hiring managers how they decide who to promote, many say that they look at the employee’s track record. And if that person struggles in their new role, they’ll probably be surprised – despite the fact that there was little data to support their appointment.

When it comes to our people and our leaders, John Holland relies on more than the recommendation of a person’s manager. We’ve been using data to identify our leaders’ strengths and development areas when it comes to succession planning for senior roles.

It also benefits our people, because employees at John Holland, a multi-national construction and property group, can look forward to a career where they’ll be provided with opportunities and career development plans to support them both in their current and future roles.

It all started two years ago, when we were acquired by China Communications Construction Company International Holdings (CCCI).

This was a crucial moment for us, as we realised we had failed to develop our future leaders sufficiently.

We knew we had not been vigilant enough with our succession planning.

What’s more, we needed to develop a process for identifying high potential people, understanding their needs and developing them long-term.

We knew that we had to change things around, so we turned to a third-party expert: Hudson Talent Management.

We needed an analysis that would allow us to differentiate leaders at a functional role level, rather than a ‘one-size fits all’ approach to leadership roles.

Our work in developing our leaders began with getting acquainted with The Hudson Leadership Model. This model is based on a comprehensive review of leadership theory and principles by their registered psychologists across the globe, supported by their research and development centre based in Belgium.

The model breaks down leadership traits to five capabilities: vision, action, impact, connection and drive.

Hudson Leadership Blueprint

Different roles require different combinations of these traits. Hudson’s model outlines that at times, these traits can help leaders succeed while at other times, they can be derailers.

To find out what leadership capabilities would ensure success at a role level; Hudson Talent Management began by examining five strategically critical executive roles. As these roles are very different, the criteria looked very different.

Development areas were identified for each person by using a range of methodologies, from speaking to our critical role employees, leaders and stakeholders to online assessments and workshops, our people’s preferences, motivational drivers as well as strengths..

Essentially, Hudson Talent Management was mapping out what success looked like in our leadership roles, and also how we can develop our leaders to be better equipped for those roles.

Finding ‘diamonds in the rough’

By examining the traits of our leaders and those in critical roles, Hudson drew attention not only to their performance, but also where the opportunities and gaps were within our people.

The results were encouraging, as on the whole our leadership bench strength was above average. Yet the results also showed that there was some variability within the demographic.

Without this insight, we would have limited understanding of who the high performers were.

Additionally, what we found most helpful was that we were able to find our “diamonds in the rough.” These individuals, although they were doing a great job, may have been overlooked due to their geographic location or position within the business units.   

The real work begins

Even as we examined the data, we were aware that assessments were only one data point.

To get the whole picture of a person, we needed to stack these up against performance reviews, managers’ feedback as well as the individual’s experience and background. While the data helped us better understand our future leaders, what it really provided was a chance at a dialogue with our people.

It meant that we could have lengthy discussions with our people about their future and their motivations and capacity to lead.

For example, we found that those who had chosen a career path of Project Director were sometimes better suited for other leadership roles that they hadn’t considered before.

These results enabled us to have an open discussion. We’d show them the results and ask, “Where do you want to be?” and after that, we’d help that person work towards the role they aspired to. 

More succession planning in the works

We have completed a pilot of 32 people so far and have just launched another 78 following a company wide talent review in July.

Working with Hudson Talent Management has helped us identify what success looks like, as well as the traits you need to be successful in key roles.

We’ve also supported our employees with their individual development plans and check in on them regularly to make sure that they’re on track. Having a tailored career development plan also ensures that individuals are developed in the way that suits their career goals.

This is just the beginning of using data-driven insights to shape and develop our people and culture at John Holland.

In the near future, we are hoping to use the same data to aid our hiring process. By doing so, we will not only find the best-fit people for the roles, but the ones who can work together to deliver on our various projects in the future.

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