As the marketplace grows in complexity and turbulence, it is increasingly clear that true success depends on people. As boards face more disruptions, they will need to ensure the company has the right skills and agility in the talent pipeline to meet these challenges. This topic—talent development—was the subject of this year’s Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) report. In the second session of Tuesday’s Board Leadership Conference, NACD’s Managing Director and CFO Peter Gleason was joined by the chairs of the 2013 Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Talent Development: A Boardroom Imperative Gregory Lau, managing director of the board of directors practice at RSR Partners, and Mary Pat McCarthy, director of Mutual of Omaha and Tesoro, to discuss the commission’s findings and examine the “next” practices in executive talent development.
Why Talent Development?
The reasons for the board to prioritize talent development are obvious. Over 50 percent of a company’s expenses are related to talent and people. “With the right talent,” observed McCarthy, “you can take on more risk than you might otherwise be able to do.” And yet, for the first time in decades, the talent pool is shrinking. When companies do find themselves at an inflection point, they may not easily have the necessary talent on deck.
Both chairs observed that traditionally, the board has focused on CEO succession. One of the report’s recommendations, however, is to have a multi-level, multi-year talent pipeline overseen by the full board. “Directors,” according to McCarthy, “need to think beyond the CEO and the current year.”
Building vs. Buying Talent
Directors need to take a critical look at the organization’s hiring philosophy. Does the company develop and promote from within, or hire from outside? Although there are situations that may require a significant external recruitment strategy—for example, a turnaround situation—internal hires are often less expensive and on average more successful.
Further, oversight of the talent pipeline should not be a “start and stop” process. The chairs recommended that the board continuously monitor the talent pipeline. Directors should spend time as a board thinking about strategy and the skills the company is going to need, and actually allocate time to do a deep dive. Going beyond the company, Lau recommended looking at competitors’ talent to figure out how they are developing their pipeline. A red flag for directors should in fact be that their competitors are consistently recruiting talent from them.
Strategic Human Resources Function
At BRC meetings, a significant portion of the debate was where the authority of talent development should rest in the company. The commission came to the conclusion that the human resources function should serve as a “strategic architect” to the company. The chief human resources officer or equivalent position, in fact, should make sure that the talent development process is “constant, moving, with good results,” according to Lau. “That person should have time on the board agenda, throughout the year, talking to the directors on talent.”
The Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Talent Development: A Boardroom Imperative is available at the NACD Bookstore and free to download for all NACD Full Board Members.