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Succession planning is important, but a new report from Deloitte finds that few executives believe they do it well. Finding the right balance between data-driven, “check-the-box” assessments and broader, more interpersonal tools for identifying potential leaders are cited as the problem.

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In the tech function, 75% of respondents to a 2021 Deloitte survey said their departments had an authentic commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, but that women and non-white workers only comprised a quarter or less of leadership teams. “Those pledges to bring a wider range of people into technology fields may be a priority for IT leaders, but executives frequently struggle to pass the baton to diverse candidates: Companies often haven’t built diverse networks or recruited talent that more closely resembles a broader multidimensional workforce,’’ according to a new Deloitte report on succession planning.

The report found that there is a need for a long-term, multidimensional perspective and transparency.  It showcases examples of leaders in the tech space who have created a viable pipeline of diverse candidates during the succession planning process. It also provides a set of guidelines and principles to help CIOs transform their succession-planning efforts.

What CIOs need to consider

One approach to succession planning is to figure out who can slide into the chair with the least disruption and keep operations running smoothly, the Deloitte report noted. This is a disservice to both the organization and its new leaders.

A better approach is to look at succession as an opportunity to find a new set of leadership perspectives and not just a carbon copy of the person who previously held the position.

There are additional hurdles CIOs have to grapple with to achieve effective succession planning. “For example, it is assumed that future CIOs and technology leaders must have technical backgrounds and skill sets—and there is no room for compromise on those expectations,’’ the report stated. “Because of the technical nature of the issues facing CIOs and the near-constant change in the technology space, CIO candidates are expected to have full mastery over a range of business-specific applications and issues such as cyber threats, blockchain, artificial intelligence, remote-working processes and cloud.”

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Projects and deep insights into these are often considered “must-haves” in a CIO candidate, the report said. While tech fluency is important, tech savvy and tech curious are other skills that determine success, according to the report.

Deloitte also advised that potential candidates do better when they have a broad exposure to other parts of the business. And instead of feeling threatened by succession planning, CIOs should feel empowered as part of their legacy-setting process.

Laura Miller, CIO of Macy’s, said she is focused on improving the tech organization right now. “That means making sure that my team has the right growth opportunities, it means that I’ve got the right diversity on the team, it means that I’ve got candidates being promoted from within instead of hiring from outside and it means that I’ve got a great culture with people [who] love being there, love what they’re doing, and want to be part of Macy’s success story.”

As CIOs continue to drive diversity, equity and inclusion in their organizations a critical part of that is thinking about their own succession planning processes and the slate of diverse candidates in the pipeline, said Anjali Shaikh, U.S. CIO program leader at Deloitte Consulting.

“Even when DEI processes and initiatives are well-established in an organization, ensuring they tie back to talent advancement and promotion of diverse employees is an area that requires more work,’’ Shaikh said.

To combat that, some CIOs are now using data to help identify high-performing diverse candidates two-to-three levels below the CIO who may sometimes be missed by traditional succession planning processes, which are often based on a narrow set of criteria, she said.

“Leveraging data and tools may cast the net wider to provide views of a potential candidate pool that may have otherwise been missed–but it’s only part of the solution,’’ Shaikh said. “Ensuring that women and non-white candidates have access to informal mentoring and growth opportunities is another important competent–which requires a transparent and clear view into the evaluating criteria and promotion process to essentially to level the playing field.”

Recommendations for CIOs

The Deloitte report offers a number of recommendations for CIOs to improve succession planning within their IT departments. They include:

  • Rewarding leaders for creating leadership development opportunities and environment
  • Use accessible, transparent data collection, which can inspire trust in the succession planning process
  • Adopt a succession mentality from day one
  • Promote the three Es: experience, exposure and education.

As companies consider how to diversify their ranks for leadership succession, it’s important to have transparency in the promotion process and clear expectations for incoming leaders, according to Deloitte. “Successors and incumbents alike should also aim to build influence among their peers to move succession planning to the top of the agenda.”

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