Succession Management: A Structured Approach

By Mark Tarallo

Options for classes and training sessions are numerous and increasing, as the firm now offers more than 100 online courses through a system it calls “Dunbar University.” The courses are designed by designated in-house subject matter experts and administered by a learning management software system called Moodle, which is a product of the Australia-based Moodle Pty Ltd. Content ranges from safety seminars to task-specific training modules to broader professional topics, such as classes on leadership. “We’re adding to those on a daily basis,” says Dominick Valencia, executive vice president of human resources and general counsel. Course grades and completion dates are added to the employee’s talent profile in Workday.

Moving forward, executives are exploring the possibility of offering some college-credit courses for employees working on a degree. And Dunbar University will also be used to help the company in areas outside of career development, says Sean Gibbons, vice president of communications and public relations. For example, some courses may be tailored for drivers who have had accidents or received driving complaints. Executives hope that through this type of rapid remedial response, Dunbar will decrease the number of future violations, accidents, and worker’s compensation claims.


Once an employee’s customized training program is completed, “you are basically checked off as ready,” Silverman says. At that point, another aspect of the system kicks in—matching rising stars with specific openings, on a proactive basis, so applicants are ready when jobs are vacated. 

Dunbar designates certain key positions within the organization as critical, and then creates a succession plan for each one. It does this by tagging employees who, based on their talent profiles, would be a good fit for the position. All critical positions have a succession plan, even if the current occupant does not expect to leave the company.

In addition, Dunbar is adding a new universe of data to the process of matching employees with positions: results from assessment tests administered through PeopleAnswers employee assessment software. Started in 2001, PeopleAnswers is a talent science company that leverages big data with predictive analytics and the behavioral sciences. Dunbar executives describe the system as somewhat similar to the assessment process used by dating sites such as eHarmony. But instead of using the assessments to match compatible lovers, PeopleAnswers uses assessment data to match up an employee with their ideal position, based on their aptitudes and behavioral traits. “We help them make better decisions on people,” says Brandon DeCaro, business development executive for PeopleAnswers.

The tests, which Dunbar employees started taking in January, assess 39 traits in three categories—behavioral, cognitive, and cultural. The assessment test data is married with performance metrics that Dunbar is continually collecting; the metrics show which employees are top performers and which are underperforming.

When data is crunched, trends emerge, in terms of the common trait scores of the highest performers for each position at Dunbar. Generally, five behavioral areas or traits emerge as the clearest predictors of performance because separation between employees in those areas is significant, DeCaro says. To give a hypothetical example, in the area of Ambition on a scale of 1 to 7, the highest performers may cluster around the 5 level because getting a higher score in this category isn’t always good. Employees who score a 7 on the Ambition scale may be so ambitious they disregard their managers, which hurts their overall performance.



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