Ernest W. Marshall is an experienced Chief Human Resources Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the healthcare, financial services, aviation and power management industries. Currently the Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resource Officer at Eaton, Ernest leads the human capital agenda across the entire, global multibillion dollar power management company. As part of his role, he is focused on and emphasizes growing the next generation of leaders and ensuring Eaton has the right people with the right skills at the right time in the right roles.
As executive search consultants, we are often asked to partner with client organizations to find a critical leader because succession plans are not yielding what’s needed for the role. In Ernest’s article below, he offers insights and tactical advice regarding successful succession planning.
Leaders Create Leaders, Not Just Results by Ernest W. Marshall
Earlier in my career I had the opportunity to attend a debrief meeting on a sovereign wealth fund (a state-owned fund that invests substantial amounts of money globally on behalf of their country). What intrigued me most were the two fundamental characteristics they prioritized in companies they invest in: the quality of earnings and the quality of their leadership team.
I was reminded of this same pattern in the autobiography of legendary Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson. Two fundamental leadership characteristics permeated his life and legacy. First, leaders get/drive results, and second, they develop other leaders. As we steward succession planning and assess our executive pipelines for the C-suite of the future, I continue to challenge myself and others to find anything that doesn’t fit inside of these two categories.
Many would agree with my assessment, but the larger question is, does that mindset truly exist in your company? Companies that focus on succession think and plan in terms of horsepower, whereas companies that don’t have that mindset focus more on manpower. Succession is a major determinate of the vitality of the organization and that translates into a vibrant, growth-oriented and intrapreneurial culture.
Recently, I delved deep into succession with the board and discussed how we could and should develop a more robust talent bench. Again, everyone understood the fundamentals but developing great talent must pass the calendar test: Where do leaders spend their time?
After a great boardroom dialogue, I highlighted the following as a framework for healthy succession planning.
1. Plan a three-to-five-year strategic succession landscape. The future outlook should clearly inform the current planning. Diversified skill acquisition is the cornerstone of development and having an active, future- oriented playbook allows for better planning and more fluid movement. This also drives the right conversations with those nearing retirement, providing pathway roles and identifying enterprise talent who are hungry to understand their future. A clear understanding of the future helps to better clarify current succession needs.
2. Leaders must OWN succession. I often hear rhetoric that HR owns succession—that is a recipe for disaster. High-performing teams have leaders that spend time developing their bench and I tell leaders that their movement is dependent on developing a successor for their role. Robust succession planning gives leaders one thing back that you can’t put a price on and that is capacity! The organization’s ROI increases exponentially when the caliber of talent becomes a top priority. Owning succession also means being honest and open about performance and recognizing the importance of frequently letting people know how they are doing.
3. Succession is strategic. Succession has a language and a process. Often, I see names on a page to fill charts with limited thought on skill development and readiness. The language of succession must be clear on readiness and willingness because someone could be ready for a role but not willing to move or change to advance their career. It is also important, especially for enterprise talent, to signal expectations early as these folks move into new roles. The narrative is important because we all expect the person to be successful—thus the move—but we also need to ensure that the role frees up in the future for other talent. Sometimes a person’s ambition outweighs their substantive contribution in their role, and they get focused on moving up versus broadening their skills. This is a major succession default and a system failure. Succession must be a living and ongoing process—when done well, it energizes the talent in the business. Think of great succession planning as chess, where you have to think several moves ahead to be successful.
4. Succession is revealing. Gaining alignment on talent can be challenging at times, especially if the process happens only once a year, which is not what I recommend. Bringing leaders together to discuss and align on key talent and the critical succession roles makes the process more fluid and sustainable. This is important because one succession move can have major implications on the retention of others in your organization. Knowing those implications upfront allows for better planning and more time to address any retentions issues that might arise. When succession is working, you will have several individuals who are ready or ‘stretch ready’ for the critical roles in the business. You will also have the time to complete a succession risk analysis long before you actually encounter the risk.
Having the right people, with the right skills, in the right place at the right time is a signal that the succession process is working. Having a strong pool of diverse talent to select from also enhances the process, building a richer culture that embraces the strength of our differences. Investors seek sustainable organizations, and well- orchestrated, fully integrated succession is a sustainable advantage. When Coach Thompson looked back at his life, his legacy was the leaders he developed. Leave that same mark in your organizations!
As Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer of Eaton, Ernest W. Marshall leads the organization’s effort to create a culture that attracts and inspires great talent and provides an exceptional place for employees to work and grow. In his role, he is responsible for the company’s global Human Resources function, which includes leadership and organizational development, compensation and benefits, inclusion and diversity, and talent acquisition. Ernest has more than 22 years of global HR experience, previously holding executive HR leadership roles with General Electric. Ernest holds a law degree from Indiana University – Bloomington School of Law, an MBA from Indiana University, and a Bachelor of Arts in accounting and business administration from Bellarmine University and serves on several boards.