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Talent Management and Succession Planning in Higher Education

Cornerstone Editors

America’s higher learning institutions educate and develop society’s future thinkers and leaders. It’s ironic, then, that it seems many don’t develop their own administrative staff or leadership talent.

Administrator Talent Crisis

Research shows talent and succession planning is lacking at America’s colleges and universities. The American Council on Education (ACE), for example, reports in a survey that the talent pipeline of potential administrative leaders in academia is getting short shrift, as ACE reports that less than a third of all sitting chief academic officers are aspiring to presidencies or chancellorships.

That’s not good, but it gets worse. Research also shows that many tenure-track faculty members also are deciding to stay in the classroom, reluctant to pursue new challenges as administrators.

Here are some startling statistics that fortify the notion that academia’s talent pipeline needs serious tending. For example:

  • Nationally, more than 40 percent of the top investment executives within universities and endowments left in 2005 and 2006, according to a 2007 compensation survey by Mercer

  • A national study of 323 chief academic officers, conducted by Eduventures Academic Leadership Learning Collaborative, found that 43 percent of provosts surveyed are holding their positions for shorter periods of time.

  • A 2009 study of chief academic officers by the ACE found that the average tenure was 4.7 years on the job — less than half that of presidents

Where to Go From Here

It’s a dicey situation, but not an impossible one to overcome. For starters, effective succession planning starts with performance management supported by learning and development programs. Follow that "curriculum" and universities soon will discover potential leaders from within the ranks. Of course, one thing you don’t want when filling critical administrative posts is guesswork.

For many universities, performance management is merely an annual HR process to appraise performance, as opposed to an effort to improve performance or identify future leaders. Saddled with homegrown, paper-based processes, institutions often use performance management tools and approaches that fail to take advantage of the automation, integration and depth of technology available today. Or institutions may have processes that don’t enable managers to have meaningful, actionable discussions with their direct reports.

The solution is more strategic talent and peformanance management processes, supported by the right technology that can better lead, manage, develop, reward and assess employees in a concise, standardized way.

To make succession planning a reality, university leaders need a performance management system that:

  • Provides cascading goals that align the objectives of the institution with the professional goals and needs of the employee. Managing and measuring the employee performance of each of these goals is critical to performance management, but without automation and integration, it becomes a time-consuming, daunting task.

  • Assesses critical competencies and skills based on pre-defined criteria for staff success. Institutional leaders need an easy-to-use system that helps them predict and address potential competency gaps, performance strengths and opportunities.

  • Reviews and measures performance on a ongoing and interim basis. The cascading goals an employee will be assessed by might not reflect the institution’s current goals and objectives. Automated and integrated systems make managing and assessing performance an ongoing process — always keeping the employee and the institution aligned.

  • Identifies and tracks high-performing individuals. Performance management enables institution leaders to know who is a high-potential employee with the skills and motivation to transition into a leadership or administrative staff position.

  • Enables the creation of development plans that engage employee career development. Identifying high-performing, high-potential employees is great, but even more important is creating career development plans for those employees.

Ultimately, institutional leaders have an opportunity to better gather insight into the skills, knowledge and competencies that succession-ready employees have at hand – and, further, to turn this insight into action and talent they should develop for the future.

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