Leadership Succession Planning and Management in a Digitally Disrupted World

Emerging thinking and research on organisational leadership reveals that ideas about what constitutes effective leadership are constantly evolving in accordance with inter alia political events, technological advancements, economic policies, cultural and social life and changing business strategies. As the demands of business leadership continue to shift over time, a growing number of recognised thoughts leaders are arguing that the increasing speed and complexity of digital change in particular is having a marked impact on how organisations view leadership. 

According to Gitsham, Wackrill, Baxter and Pegg (2012) in the business leadership domain, companies that will thrive in this digitally disrupted world are those which will be led by executives who have an understanding and anticipation of the forces which are likely to shape their current and future operating contexts  and who have the required skills to master those forces.

What are the implications of this shifting landscape?

In light of this accelerating pace of change and disruption, organisations are being increasingly forced to re-evaluate their criteria for leadership success. For example, a chairman of a multinational mining company recently spoke about how the shifting business leadership landscape had influenced the process of choosing a new chief executive. In an interview he stated: “we had a list of all the normal things that one has always looked for in a chief executive, but there were also some new ones that weren’t on the list the last time.” Evidence suggests that savvy boards and executive teams are adapting their approaches to leadership selection and succession that parallel changes brought about by the environments in which they operate. 

Korn Ferry institute indicates that to prepare for the organisational consequences emanating from digital disruption, hiring managers and recruitment practitioners need to think about the kinds of activities which become vital when leading in a fast changing world. Guangrong, De Meuse and Tang (2013) note that these activities to some extent require seeing the connections between external trends and their implications for core business, creating the necessary conditions to enable leadership to emerge throughout the business, encouraging innovation and framing challenges that inspire it, while simultaneously recognizing and rewarding positive new behaviours and outcomes. This suggests that there exists a crucial role for leadership development and management education which gives future leaders a more comprehensive understanding of the world, how it works and what that means for how they are going to lead.

Agile and adaptive leadership

A recent independent study (2012) demonstrated that businesses can benefit from becoming more adaptable and more agile by investing in leaders that have the same competencies. For instance, this study indicated that fast rising talent sat with people who were highly learning agile (Guangrong et al., 2013). Additionally, learning agility assessment scores, proved to be a valid predictor of long-term leadership potential. Using data from a Korn Ferry assessment of learning agility, this study found that those who scored high on this trait were 18 times more likely than low scoring peers to be identified as high potentials (Dries, Vantilborgh, and Pepermans 2012).

Higher scores on learning agility assessments were associated with many qualities that are desirable in high potentials, which included competencies like learning new tasks and functions easily; having the ability to cope well with ambiguity and complexity; not accepting the status quo; being reflective and insightful; enjoying to try new things and different approaches.

The implication is significant in that organisations that hire highly learning agile individuals will have less difficulty filling top leadership positions in the future given that these individuals have high potential capability that can move them up in the organisation faster because of their adaptability in changing environments; their ability to learn from experiences and to take on novel challenges. All of which sets them apart from the rest.

September 9, 2015