Can a ‘Leadership Simulator’ Help You Make Better Succession Plans?

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PlaneRunning a successful company requires a team of successful managers. The day-to-day operations of most organizations depend on quality management, so it’s important to get the right people into those positions in a timely manner.

Not every good employee makes a good manager. An excellent worker can know the business inside and out and still lack the correct skill set to manage other people.

There are two main factors at work here, according to Sarah Glass, vice president, talent solutions, at talent selection and employee development firm OutMatch.

“First, the requirements for the successor role are often different from the requirements of the existing role where the candidate was successful,” Glass says. “Without a framework, it is difficult for managers to assess what a person’s potential might be at the next level, as well as the next 2-3 levels.”

For example, Glass says, there is very little correlation between success as a salesperson and success as a sales manager, director, or executive. These roles require very different competencies.

“And yet, when identifying those who have the potential to be successful at other levels in an organization, managers immediately look to those who are successful in their current role,” Glass says. “Those competencies that make someone successful as a salesperson –independence, competitiveness, making decisions in the moment – may actually become barriers at the next level where a manager needs to focus on process, coaching others, and delegating.”

The second factor at work is that managers often make succession choices based on subjective factors and biases.

“Oftentimes, factors such as the person’s likability, how similar they are to the manager, and their culture fit with the organization and department are important factors to a manager, which may not translate into how successful they are at the next level,” Glass says.

Making an Informed Decision Through Simulation

Managers make the wrong choice for their successor as much as 60 percent of the time, according to OutMatch’s research. Instead of choosing managers based on their performance in existing roles, companies should take advantage of programs and tools that provide additional insight into how that employee would function in a more advanced role.

sheet“The question is not who can choose a candidate better – managers or analytics,” says Glass. “The goal is to use … analytics and insights to inform the judgment of a hiring manager.”

Glass says assessments are tools; they are not meant to replace the judgment of a manager. Instead, managers should use these tools to access insights they may not have been able to leverage otherwise.

“Managers make poor decisions typically because they don’t have the data needed to make the best decisions,” Glass says. “They are relying on the only things available to them: their experiences, impressions, and the person’s performance in their current role, which may not be enough data to make the best decision.”

Simulations can be a big help when managers need to learn more about how a prospective successor could perform in their role. For example, OutMatch offers a “virtual leadership simulation” in which a management candidate plays the role of a new manager on their first day on the job.

Prior to the simulation, the prospect preps by reading through background materials including information about their simulated role, the organization, current strategic initiatives, budget and revenue, and the team they’ll be managing.

When the simulation starts, the participant logs in to an email inbox containing messages from their boss, their direct reports, and others in the organization. During the course of the simulation, the prospective manager will have live role-play meetings via video with their boss and their direct reports. During these meetings, the participant might have to coach a subordinate or explain their strategic plan to the boss.

There are also a few unexpected interruptions during the simulation, like crisis events, urgent business decisions, and personnel issues. The goal is to simulate a typical workday as realistically as possible.

By putting a candidate through such a simulation, a manager can more easily see whether their strengths in their current role will translate to a management position – or whether the candidate is better off staying where they are in the organization for now.

Read more in Succession

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.