Oh, how many ways shall I categorize thee?

OK. We’ll paraphrase because, well, going back and finding the original LinkedIn forum discussion would be just a little too much of a gaze into the abyss

[and staring at the walls of solitary confinement hotel rooms is more than enough for us most of the time]

but suffice to say, it was a very excited HR professional who’d just been hired to lead talent/succession planning for a major company and wanted to know:

… implementing talent planning, is a 9-box or 6-box better?

It’s hard to know where to start, it really is.

But let’s start with what should be the blindingly obvious – you’ve been hired to deliver something, presumably because you have a track record of delivering that something

[or something very similar]

and – even though most leaders run in the opposite direction of accountability for thought, intent, or deed – like it or not, you’re getting paid to have an opinion.

About that thing you’ve been hired to do.

You know. The thing. That you…

I don’t care how inclusive you aim to be, you can’t start from

I don’t know, you tell me what I should do


OK. Before we blame the victim, let’s not be so kind to the HR leadership who placed this person in such a predicament.

Have we really come to the point where needing to check the box that says

we have a succession planning process

is so desirable/necessary/expected that we’ll put someone… anyone in the role even if they have no clue about the process, its intent or the pitfalls inherent in the assessment and categorization of individual talent?

Have we?

I guess so.

Time for some BadConsultant-ism. Time for sh*t to hit fan.

It doesn’t matter how many boxes.

Because the leaders who provide


data on potential successors, are AWFUL raters

[and if you don’t know why that is, then what the hell are you doing in ANY assessment based role?]

The final grid will be the result of horse-trading and executive insecurity – narcissistic egos, handbags at dawn

[if you’ve never been in a compensation calibration meeting, you just aren’t qualified to weigh in on this subject]

We guarantee that your upper right box

[of 3, 6, 9, 47…]

will contain the names of those people who do enough to look great, but not so much that they unsettle their chain of command. Any objective assessment of the upper right box would show political operatives, and very, very few change-makers

[and if you don’t know why that is, what the hell are you doing in a role remotely connected to leadership and organization development?]

though the chance of objectivity getting anywhere near a talent/succession planning grid is, frankly, laughable – or, at minimum, delusional.

In fact, the number of boxes

[much like the number of performance rankings available for year-end rating]

is just another example of HR’s red-herrings. It’s a false end-point that makes us feel like we’re moving things forward, when in reality, all we’re doing is maintaining the illusion of hunky-doryness.

For the most part the outcomes of Talent/Succession Planning rarely come close to the decisions they should facilitate.

Just another day in the corporate abnormality of HR


best practices.






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