Clyde Marwick, Group HR Director, Baxters Food Group on using insight to deliver performance improvement

How has talent profiling helped Baxters in terms of succession planning?

I wanted to take a much more of a holistic approach to talent profiling; so rather than just looking at one dimension, trying to understand all aspects of an individual’s repertoire.

The other part was looking at emotional and social competence. That means looking at deep seated preferences, understanding how people have been conditioned over time in terms of how their preferences for behavior. So we used psychometrics to do that.

Then we look at someone’s ability to be agile – were they able to adapt their style accordingly to set the situation or the person.

And the last piece was around understanding behaviours under stressful situations so having people what I would call dark side behaviours. And that helped form a really rich picture of that individual and their capability and how they fit into a succession plan.

What does an effective succession plan that is supported by objective insights look like?

The key question is whether we have a set of clear defined standards so we know what ‘good’ looks like, and everyone is on the same framework.  At Baxters the plan is structured and consistent across all the regions we operate in.  The other critical thing is that it’s sponsored and driven by the leadership team rather than a HR initiative.

We’re in the process of delivering a five year plan.  So we have to ask: how well linked is this succession plan to the short term, medium term and long term goals of the strategy?  So for example if we’re going to acquire businesses that will grow, what’s our current capability profile versus the capability profile that is going to be required to drive those initiatives, where are the gaps become your succession focus.

What would be the first steps an organisation should take when investing in the future to ensure an organisational approach to talent planning?

A lot of HR people will say ‘Well everyone’s doing it, so should we’, but you need to drill down into that: what is the purpose of this initiative or activity?  I asked what benefit we were going to get from this, because ultimately it’s all about achieving the five-year plan; so how does it enable us to get there?

Then finally, you need to find out how committed the CEO and leadership team is to making this happen. Because if their commitment is not there becomes incredibly hard to keep the momentum on something like this

What challenges has Baxter’s faced in their journey towards making talent planning a priority in the organisation?

Engaging and developing a set of standards that are supported by people and clearly understandable. That took a lot of time.

Then, how do I make the process objective? As the leader of the project and a member of the executive team, I had to understand what kind of external partners I needed to bring in to make sure that process is as objective as possible. When I started off this journey, my initial thinking was that I could probably lead the executive team and also be part of it.  That just did not work, so we engaged with Mercer, who helped us develop 60 tools

Finally, if you’re going to invest time and people and it’s emotive and it has huge impact, you must make sure your investment is right first time. So don’t compromise on quality, and don’t try and do it on the cheap.

Clyde will be discussing insights to deliver performance improvement further at the HRD Summit on 6th February, at The ICC in Birmingham. To understand how you can join her and other industry experts including Josh Bersin, visit hrdsummit.com for more information.

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