Thought leadership

In the second report in its “Succession Matters” series, Korn Ferry found that only half of respondents (51 percent) are confident that their organisation knows which candidates they should be investing in as potential future leaders, and only 52 percent are confident they have identified those who are “ready now” for specific roles.

Steve Newhall, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry Leadership & Talent Consulting, UK, commented: “While it’s true to say that most high potentials are high performers, it does not follow that performance is the only indicator of potential. Promoting the right people is key to ensuring a smooth transition in the development of a future leadership pipeline.”

Survey respondents cited having the right competencies for a role as the number one factor for making a promotion decision, but nearly two-thirds (63 percent) said that a lack of well-suited traits and dispositions for a company’s culture was the biggest reason promotions fail. 

“The results show us that people are promoted for what they can do, but fail for who they are. It’s critical to take a whole-person perspective when promoting people, focusing particularly on drivers and traits, otherwise you run the risk of identifying the wrong talent,” continued Steve Newhall.  “That can mean wasting years of organisational investment and leaders’ time developing themselves for a role they won’t find engaging or be successful at.”

When considering who has the potential to rise to senior levels within an organisation, Korn Ferry research points to seven key signs:


1)    A track record of formative experiences

2)    Learning agility

3)    Self-awareness

4)    Leadership traits

5)    The drive to be a leader

6)    Aptitude for logic and reasoning

7)    Managing derailment risks


“All the seven signposts can be assessed and quantified. They enable us to predict which leaders have the greatest likelihood of rising up the ranks,” said Newhall. “Organisations can therefore be confident that their people investment is paying off.”

However, Korn Ferry recommends that company leaders look beyond the signposts of individual potential to the groups of people being considered for a succession management pool, including going deeper in an organisation. 

The Succession Matters survey showed that only 38 percent of respondents said their companies’ succession programmes included mid-level managers.


“Companies need to identify those in their late 20s and early 30s who have the greatest potential to be future senior leaders, then manage their development and their careers to ensure they are ready and rounded when they need to be,” said Steve Newhall


While identifying high-potential candidates remains a key focus for organisations, high-performing professionals also need to be identified and developed within their functional areas.  Yet, only 13 percent of respondents to the study say their companies’ succession programmes included skilled professionals.


“The skilled professionals are the ones that are very difficult to replace because they are your industry experts, so it's hard to replace that knowledge,” explained Steve Newhall. “You need to value and foster these people, making sure that you are giving them just as much attention as your critical leaders.”



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