Reader question: How to Identify Critical Positions and Talent Pools

An email from a reader:

I don’t know if you can help me.
But I have a question. It’s about the planning in human resources.
I’m studying psychology and I need to investigate some strategies that companies uses for identifying critical positions and identifying talent pools.
I was thinking that these two topics can help a company to confront the financial crisis.
I hope that you can help me.

Thank you!!!!

Thanks for your questions. I’m pretty sure I can answer both, although I’m not sure I’m going to help resolve the global financial crisis.

I’ll start with what I consider to be the easier of your two questions:

How to Identify Critical Positions for Talent Management or Succession Planning

The answer to this is: it depends. It’s all about company strategy. For a company that is banking on product innovation, critical positions for them might be its scientists or engineers. For another company, it might be their first level supervisors. For some, it might be marketing positions. For expansion into a new geography, it could be regional or country management.

The question to ask is: In order to successfully execute our strategy, which positions do we need to pay extra attention to? Where do we need to focus our sourcing, selection, development, and retention efforts?

For succession planning, a good question to ask is: which positions, if needed to be replaced, would the Board of Directors care about? Or, if the person were to leave the company, would leaving it vacant or not filling it with the right person have an adverse impact on the stock price?

While it’s important for any manager to pay attention to succession planning to some extent, the reality is, there are only a few positions that if left vacant, would have a serious impact on the company’s performance. Those critical few positions tend to be the “C” level positions – CEO and the CFO, maybe the CTO or CMO, and perhaps a handful of other senior level officer positions.

For the most part, the rest of us can win the lottery and quit and our company will manage just fine without us until we’re replaced.

So I’d recommend using a position based succession planning approach for only these critical few positions. All other positions can be addressed by establishing and focusing on “pools” of talent.

For example, you might have a senior management talent pool, or a marketing talent pool, or a middle management talent pool. Anyone in one of these pools could be developed to step into any of a number of larger roles.

Now on to the harder question:

How to Identify Talent Pools
I have a number of posts on this blog on how to identify high potentials, including:

If you follow these guidelines, you’ll improve your ability to identify high potentials for talent pools. However, assessing potential is about as accurate as drafting college or minor league athletes to compete in the pros. It’s part art and part science, with more busts than sure-fire picks. That’s why it’s important to develop your employees – so you can expand your pools and increase their chances of success.

Assessment centers are another more formal, and also more expensive, way to evaluate and test candidates for benchmarked positions. Because they’re so expensive, they are usually used for critical positions. For larger pools, companies sometimes establish internal assessment centers. These centers are sometimes staffed by psychologists, so perhaps you’ll end up working at one some day!

You’ve asked some big questions, and I’m sure I missed some key points. A lot of talent management professionals read this blog, so I’ll invite them to fill in the missing pieces.