Agility as a measure for succession management and job rotation

A Frazer Jones Chronicle article: The Talent & Culture Series: Published October 2015

Niko Veenstra - Eneco - Logo

“Sustainable energy for everyone” is the Group’s mission. Their vision is that this will happen in a decentralised world where consumers also become producers, customers become partners and together they realise the transition to a fully sustainable energy supply. This major transition in the energy world is already in full swing and the theme is a disruptor for many companies. The old energy model is dead – the new model is evolving and it’s one which requires continuous innovation and adaptations within the Eneco Group.

Niko Veenstra - Eneco

“Sustainable energy for everyone” is the Group’s mission. Their vision is that this will happen in a decentralised world where consumers also become producers, customers become partners and together they realise the transition to a fully sustainable energy supply. This major transition in the energy world is already in full swing and the theme is a disruptor for many companies. The old energy model is dead – the new model is evolving and it’s one which requires continuous innovation and adaptations within the Eneco Group.

The enormous change in the energy world also requires change in leadership. Both managing this industry wide transformation and driving high performance a needs to be managed simultaneously.

Management Development is only as good as the succession results it delivers. Eneco Group came to the conclusion that their Management Development practices did not take into account the changing landscape and did not yield enough success. They therefore took a step back to determine what had to change…

High Performance ≠ High Potential

One of the challenges with succession management/management development that many companies face is the detection of high potentials (HiPo’s). Who has the potential to grow (quickly) and should be invested in heavily to improve readiness for the next step(s) in the leadership pipeline?

A classic challenge in this is the blurred view we have between performance and potential. Performance can quite easily be observed and a lot peers/managers observe the same. Potential though is far more difficult to observe in daily behavior and the views on this vary significantly within an organization. Often both are mixed up and as performance is seen consistently and widely, high potentials are identified among the most high performing employees. A profound discussion with those who select the high potentials in an organisation
is absolutely necessary to address this misconception.

Academically correct, but practically deficient

A well-known tool to more objectively measure potential is by using competency frameworks. Employees are scanned against a higher level of competency; if they show sufficient behavior of a higher level of competency, then they can be considered high potentials. Within the Eneco Group, they had great competency frameworks. Beautifully crafted, academically correct, but practically deficient as we can see
them in many companies. The challenge is often the complexity. Within the Eneco Group there were 3 frameworks (each 7 pages) and additionally they had 3 culture frameworks (also extremely important). This was all for good historic reasons, but ultimately, the frameworks did not help to create a significant business impact (improve identification or support development) and simply the term “competency framework” had developed into a term that sent shivers down the spines of business managers.

If it doesn’t fit on one page scrap it

Eneco decided that they had to radically simplify the competency framework and as the aversion to the topic internally was considerable, they even went as far as deciding on a new name: Eneco Group Qualities. The biggest change was that they decided that impact was far more important than perfection and therefore simplicity was the priority. Everything that is important has to fit on one page (and it has to be readable)!

They succeeded in the challenge and now have a one page Qualities framework for the whole Group including all leadership pipeline levels, competencies and culture values. It is roughly correct and is now widely used for talent identification, performance management, development and recruitment. The most important result - it is embraced by managers, it is used by managers and it has impact in the business.

Niko Veenstra - Eneco - 650

The missing link – learning agility

Dealing with only the complexity of frameworks was not enough to help in the improvement which was needed for identifying high potentials within Eneco Group. After reviewing numerous state of the art tools and methodologies it was realised “Learning Agility” was the missing link. In an increasinly complex and fast changing world, we cannot rely on fixed frameworks of roles. We need to look at the ability to learn new things fast in new roles which may know nothing about today.

You have to stop and ask yourself, “What do you expect from somebody with a certain degree of potential?” Funnily enough, potential by itself has little business value. It is what you do with it that matters. In line with this Eneco Group reshaped the definition and came to this definition. “A high potential is a person, who on the
basis of good performance (what+how) and high learning agility, when transferred to a higher level, will show high performance within 1 year. It’s important to note that this definition does not imply that the person has to be ready within one year (that is the readiness, which can vary), but once moved up, will show high
performance fast. This is therefore a far more business/results-centric definition.

Easy online measurement of Learning Agility

Learning agility can be measured quite accurately. Eneco Group utilises an online learning agility scan developed by their partner HFM (the HFMTalentIndex) which considers 3 areas and draws a result based on 5 dimensions of learning agility. The 3 areas are: personality, motivations and behavior. The latter can be self assessed, but a 360 scan can be included utilised. The outcome consists of five dimensions: People Agility, Results Agility, Change Agility, Mental Agility and Self-awareness. Self-awareness has a prominent position and can most easily determine the score and also be most easily developed. The underlying components and resulting dimensions are too complex for general practical use, but the overall indicator “learning agility” from Eneco Group’s experience, is an excellent indicator for high potential identification.

Initially Eneco Group tested the use of this new indicator while still relying on the regular (and simplified) competency framework, 360’s and competency based interviews. The outcome was impressive and showed an extremely high correlation. Furthermore it helped in addressing the earlier mentioned challenge in noting
the difference between high performers and high potentials. In discussions, Eneco Group identified potential HiPo’s who simply were not stretched or visible enough within the business. They also learned that some identified HiPo’s did not have as much potential as initially thought and were simply repeating the same high profile “trick” in various roles and in fact showed too little learning capability. With these positive experiences, Learning Agility has become THE measure for defining internal HiPo candidate pool. Of
course, one should never rely on one data point only, but in the calibration discussions, it is present prominently.

Learning Agility as a talent acquisition tool

Eneco Group also decided that a further simplified version of the Learning Agility Scan was to be used for all recruitment activities from a certain grade and up. It has showed to have a significant positive impact in this realm as well. It helps the business to add another dimension to the interviews and other assessments and is especially useful in determining whether the candidate is a performer or a performer with potential.

Learning agility components

Learning agility components

Learning Agility for internal mobility

Internal mobility is for many companies as much an opportunity as it is a risk. We want employees to move around within the organisation, advance their development by going through different experiences, and to a certain degree, force mobility to improve employability (internal/external). As the world is continuously changing, bars are raised and workforce needs vary continuously. The risk is however, that we move somebody into a new role that doesn’t perform quickly enough. The flipside is not allowing somebody into
a new position because they lack a key experience but ironically have the learning agility to quickly transition and progress in this role. As with Management Development (where learning agility is needed to move mostly vertically through the leadership pipeline), we can use Learning Agility to test whether employees can move horizontally. The application of Learning Agility is not restricted to management levels – the ability to develop and learn is relevant for everybody. Also, here the core of the Learning Agility will be
the self-awareness. We all have seen the studies where 80% of us feel that we are above average and 70% of us feel that we can do a better job than our boss. Somehow this is embedded in our DNA and all of us need to be aware of this flaw in our human design. Eneco Group decided recently to start using the Learning Agility Scan for internal mobility as well. A key element is how high the bar should be set. Set too high and mobility will be too restricted whereas set too low and the internal move will not yield success
for the employer and employee. We do not have an answer to this question yet. But as with everything in transformative environments, we take the leap and embark on this journey and learn and tweak as we progress.

The need for agile HR practices

To change quickly an organisation needs HR to review the support its practices provide and Management Development is a key area. Many other practices within the Eneco Group have been adjusted to create the most impact on its transformative journey. Best practices are always a reflection of circumstances and the
organisation believes in “best impact on strategy realisation” as key-criteria for changes in HR. Agile HR practices are required (both in form and content) to further boost organisational change and ensure a business is best positioned to both survive and strive is this fast changing world.