Talent Management For Senior And Upper Management


The areas of importance in each of the four components are based upon these realities.

  1. The CEO and line executive management’s practical business needs should drive all such coaching activities, not those of HR management, coaches or consultants who assist the TM leader.
  2. HR and TM management must deal with the following hard truth: As long as investors and the market hold the Board of Directors and top management of any private or public company accountable for achieving certain financial, operating and strategic objectives over the short and long term; every organization in the company should continuously seek out and find innovative ways to assist the CEO and line executives in the achievement of these objectives. Simply performing HR’s administrative duties will not engender the CEO’s or line executive active support.
  3. The CHRO and TM Leader should think and act as a business person FIRST and an HR person SECOND.
  4. The CEO and line executives typically view senior and upper management positions as having a skills mix of 75% hard (job, technical and executive) skills and 25% soft (interpersonal and basic leadership) skills; not the reciprocal.

    Hard Skills for senior and upper management personnel might include:

    A. Functional Acumen – understanding various business functions (sales, marketing, product development, manufacturing, etc.) and sub functions (for manufacturing, they are production, quality control, manufacturing engineering, inventory control, etc.), along with planning, controlling and leading major multi-functional and/or multi-divisional team efforts.
    B. Financial Acumen – understanding the company and division Income and Cash Flow statements and Balance Sheet, sales volume and gross profit margins for major products, budget/profit planning, and performance.
    C. Fiscal Year Business Objectives – for the company, divisions, and key executives.
    D. Business Strategy – understanding the company and divisional strategic plan objectives, major product/market development plans, and financial plans.
    E. Executive Skills – Board and top management interaction on key business issues, stock market analyst interaction, championing innovation, consistently achieving profitable financial results and strategic growth, establishing a highly effective workplace culture, leadership, and so on.
    F. Management Skills – knowing how to plan (including the setting of objectives), organize and control various important departmental projects, consistently leading different company organizations to achieve outstanding business results and achieving innovative results in all aspects of the job. [/message][su_spacer]
    1. Line executives will typically evaluate any TM practice in light of the amount of practical business value or return they receive in relation to the amount of valuable line executive time that is expended on them.
    2. Line executives are not overly concerned about the details of any TM software package so, after an appropriate system is selected, shift all time and effort to learning more and more details about each line executive position, and its key responsibilities, projects and expected business results.
    3. TM success is inexorably tied to the respect the CEO and line executives have for the CHRO and TM Leader as a business person; not an HR person. In their eyes, such respect must be earned and cannot simply be handed over to them because of their job title.[su_spacer]

    This article will cover the four major components of TM as they apply to the senior and upper management levels.


    The following critically important items are designed to locate, attract, engage and retain highly qualified external candidates.

    1. Along with having an employee-friendly company culture items, understand how your culture is perceived in the outside labor market at the higher management levels, especially related to financials, sales, markets/products, the stock market and other important items. Respond to each potentially negative perception, whether real or not, as needed.
    2. Remember that the management style, interpersonal behaviors and business values listed in your company culture statement evolve from the CEO and line executive’s actions which include company plans, decisions, strategies, press releases, and benefits; not simply their spoken words. If the actions are inconsistent or counter to the words used in the statement, you are much better off without them. Employees will consider any one such action as a sham and ultimately ruin the positive effect of all other accurate actions.
    3. Acquire two or three practical examples of each major culture statement item that clearly illustrate how management’s actions were consistent with statement item, and incorporate this information into each appropriate onboarding and training event.
    4. Utilize line-oriented talent acquisition teams that can identify potential external management candidates for each key management position within the company, since the company’s succession plans will identify any internal management candidates.
    5. Predict any potential internal attrition and establish a plan of action, if needed.
    6. As needed, utilize talent acquisition system technology to provide job opening forecasts, use predictive data to consider the best-qualified candidates, improve social media sourcing and candidate relationship management, utilize video interviewing and other features.
    7. Conduct a fully-coordinated interviewing process in which at least two separate interviewers are asking questions and evaluating the candidate’s responses regarding certain hard and soft skill requirements while avoiding overlap and duplication. Ensure that the key interviewers have sufficient time to evaluate the candidate properly.
    8. Set up and complete a Candidate Evaluation Matrix so that each interviewer’s evaluations and comments on a particular skill requirement are recorded as part of the overall evaluation of the candidate. A suggested rating scale might be: 1-unacceptable, 2-average, 3-very good, 4-excellent and 5-outstanding. Utilizing such a matrix will assist the immediate superior to make a fully comprehensive and balanced evaluation and hiring decision.
    9. Positively influencing the candidate on the company/job skills and career fit by having all company interviewers providing a consistent message of job fit, company financial and market/product strength, top management quality, strategic direction, cultural fit, promotion from within practice, and so on.
    10. Provide a detailed offer letter that clearly stipulates key job responsibilities and projects, staffing, budget, authority, compensation details on salary, bonus and stock offerings, personal skills development plans, and potential job/career opportunities.
    11. Provide for a 30/60/120 day job review session with the hiring manager and TM manager to review all aspects of the job in relation to what was said and offered during the interviewing process.
    12. After hire, the TM Leader should establish a detailed schedule of executive briefings for each new executive that provide an overview of the company/division’s financials, product development, current products and markets, sales/distribution, key Board and top management business issues, and immediate staff personnel.[su_spacer]


    It is fair to say that today the vast majority of coaching activities concentrate on improving interpersonal skills, leadership styles and basic management skills (soft skills) which are, for the most part, inappropriate for almost all senior and upper management personnel.

    1. From an employee’s viewpoint, he/she will feel engaged with the company primarily based upon whether or not the company is providing the necessary skills training and development for the current job and, when those are achieved, the skills that are needed for the next most likely one.
    2. The ultimate customer for coaching services is the CEO and top line executives who consider hard skills much more important than soft skills for success in the senior and upper management positions.
    3. Place only little or no emphasis on interpersonal skills, leadership styles and basic management skills for upper/middle management executives who typically possess such skills in more than reasonable amounts.
    4. If the TM function desires to be recognized at the senior and upper management as a business-oriented partner, it is must recognize that the hard skill/soft skills mix at those levels is typically 75%/25% – the way they exist in the executive’s real world.
    5. The application of both hard and soft skills at the senior and upper management levels should be conducted within the practical context of the executive’s fiscal year business objectives, plans, strategies, and challenges.
    6. When developing the coaching needs for any senior or upper management executive, do so by meeting the executive’s two superiors in person so that both hard and soft skill needs can be developed in light of his/her current and next most logical position; rather than relying on some generalized competency model or 360 degree feedback system.
    7. If the coach does not possess some practical work experience in the hard skills that are relevant to the executive’s position, there is a high likelihood that the executive will disregard most of the coaches’ advice as being superficial, conceptual and comparatively unimportant.
    8. When the coach and the coaching activities reflect the real-world business reality of the executive’s position, TM leaders will find that line executives are much more supportive of the function because of its added practical business value.[su_spacer]


    Unfortunately, in many companies, succession planning is considered an HR paperwork exercise with little practical use or application by the CEO or line management. Typically, the success of any such program is directly and inexorably tied to one basic premise – the respect that the CEO and line executives have for the Chief HR Officer. If the CHRO has earned that respect by being an equal business partner to the line executives; the program will succeed or fail based solely on the validity and usefulness of its content. Conversely, if the CHRO does not have that respect, the program could easily fail. Therefore, the following related items are needed to ensure the plan’s practical viability.

    1. The plan should be a LINE MANAGEMENT one; not an HR plan. Line executives will use the data in the plan IF it primarily relies on their own input and those of their line management peers much more heavily than competency model, behavioral test data, and other such tools.
    2. The success or failure of the plan will NOT rely on or be determined by the software, forms or procedures used. Conversely, it will rely on the detailed evaluations of each plan incumbent and candidate by any appropriate top line management executive. In the end, it is their comments and evaluations that matter the most to the CEO.
    3. For each management position in the plan, TM should document the following data into an appropriate database: a) the four or five key areas of responsibility, b) current and typical ongoing business objectives, c) key projects directly related to the position, d) the required hard skills and e) the required soft skills, such as leadership and key interpersonal skills. The TM leader’s thorough knowledge of these skills and how they relate to any plan participant will be primary basis upon which line management executives will consider the business value and worth of his/her input.
    4. Fully understanding the data in 3. above will allow the TM Leader to effectively interact with any line executive and be able to challenge any questionable succession candidate’s inclusion in the plan on the basis of past performance results and/or skill deficiencies in relation to the requirements of the position in question. In the end, HAVING ONLY VIABLE CANDIDATES listed in the plan is critically important to line management regarding their judgment of whether the plan is a realistic and worthwhile one.
    5. For the top two or three organization levels, and lower if possible, it is highly recommended that the plan data on any succession incumbent or candidate be acquired in a face-to-face discussion with the appropriate executive so that the TM leader can realistically understand his/her rationale for each evaluation. Most importantly, it provides a practical business-oriented basis upon which the TM Leader can challenge and/or clarify HR’s viewpoint on any potentially questionable names, and their evaluations and comments, before they are finalized in the plan and reviewed by top management or the CEO.
    6. All recommended succession candidates should be thoroughly vetted by the CHRO and TM Leader before any plan dissemination and review so that any potential disagreements are understood by the appropriate line management in advance of any top management review.
    7. Along with having only viable succession candidates listed in the plan, it is critically important that the CEO and top line executives ACTIVELY USE the plan data throughout the fiscal year whenever a promotional, compensation (salary, bonus, and stock offering) or developmental opportunity occurs. To accomplish this task, the TM Leader must work with the Compensation department to track all such opportunities and, when one occurs, to review the plan data with the appropriate executive to ensure that all plan data was properly considered in making such judgments.[su_spacer]


    Of all the different departments within the HR function, it is crystal clear that Management Development and Training (MDT) has, by far, the greatest opportunity to connect HR directly with the company’s business objectives and strategy, thereby demonstrating HR’s business value and worth. To do so however, at the senior and upper management levels, MDT must shift its training program emphasis AWAY FROM conceptually-oriented/soft skills programs on interpersonal skills, leadership styles and basic management skills (such as delegation, motivation, etc.), and MOVE TOWARDS presenting workshop-oriented/hard skills programs that directly relate to the financial, operating and strategic aspects of the company’s business. This task can be accomplished by collaborating with appropriate financial or line inside executives and outside experts to help design and present such programs.

    For example, after an executive needs analysis indicated that a company would need more highly qualified Business Unit and Division Presidents, a General Management training program was developed that covered the subjects of Income and Cash Flow Statement performance, Contingency Planning, Strategic Product and Market Planning, and Customer Business Strategy Interaction. In doing so, MDT leaders seized this unique opportunity to act as a meaningful business change agent to help achieve a critical company strategic objective.


    1. When conducting a training needs analysis, ask line management personnel to express their current operational or business objectives, and any related obstacles. Then ask what new business-oriented management training workshop could be developed to help achieve the objective. If the analysis simply asks the management personnel to comment on what management training programs should be conducted in relation to existing training programs, the responses will be totally different and become relatively inconsequential.
    2. Ensure that any appropriate hard skills are included into the workshop subject matter in the appropriate ratio to the soft skills, as deemed necessary by upper line management, recognizing that line management typically views this ratio as 75% hard skills and 25% soft skills.
    3. Utilize inside and outside experts on any particular subject matter to help design and present the appropriate workshop, along with TM experts.
    4. The TM Leader and staff should fully understand the company and/or division’s specific fiscal year financial and operating business objectives, along with the business strategy upon which they are based.
    5. The TM Leader should recommend to upper management any specific management training workshops that are directly related to one or more of the line executive’s business objectives.
    6. Ensure that every workshop that is designed to help achieve certain financial or operating business objectives for senior and/or upper line management include certain specific, quantitative business outcomes that can be measured and subsequently be correlated directly back to the specific objective.


    1. Each year, succession incumbents, succession candidates, and high potential managers should have a Personalized Development Plan that takes into account the individual’s job/career aspirations and their next most likely management position.
    2. Such plans should be reviewed and approved by the COO and CEO, along with other appropriate upper management personnel.
    3. Like the group management workshop training, these plans should utilize the 75%/25% skills mix mentioned earlier.
    4. TM should monitor the completion of each and every planned developmental experience and work directly with the individual’s superior to ensure the development occurs on schedule, along with understanding how the individual performed in the developmental project.
    5. Whenever the training or development plan has not been accomplished, it is unacceptable for the TM Leader or staff member to simply say that line management superiors did not accomplish their task. Rather, TM staff should work proactively with the superiors well before the scheduled event to ensure that the planned developmental experience occurs on schedule.
    6. For middle and above management positions, any coach assigned to an individual should have the necessary practical work experience in the job so that all discussions and recommended actions can occur within the practical context of achieving the position’s business objectives.[su_spacer]


    IF … TM and HR management want their TM program to be viewed by the CEO and top line management executives as adding practical business value to the achievement of various line management business objectives, the above areas of importance should be incorporated into each TM component. If they do not, TM will continue to be viewed as something that is needed to provide solutions to the comparatively simplistic boss/subordinate situations for lower and middle management, but not for the much more complex business situations and issues that senior and upper management faces every day.

Jack Bucalo
Jack Bucalo
JACK has led the Global HR function for a Fortune 500 and 1000 international company and several other large international companies. With four years of line experience complementing his HR experience, he believes that the CHRO or HR Leader should play a more direct role in helping the CEO to achieve the company's business objectives and strategic goals, while effectively implementing its administrative duties. In doing so successfully, the CHRO or HR Leader can become an equal business partner with his/her line management peers while becoming more directly involved in the company's operational mainstream, rather than being just an administrative afterthought. As a pragmatic practitioner, Jack publishes detailed and actionable articles on a wide variety on critically-important HR issues on BIZCATALYST 360°. He is also on the advisory board for other web sites. Jack's over 20 years of executive-level HR experience for which he was responsible for company, executive and Board-related matters, form the basis for most of viewpoints.


  1. I found in very political cultures, the same competencies that get executives to the top are the same competencies that make it hard for them to be developed through executive coaching. Strongly political animals tend to be good at politics and less so on the other traditional management capabilities.

    Now that many companies are going global, leadership development needs to adapt and follow suit.

    • Chris, I guess my experiences are different than yours. In any event, if managers are properly train/developed/coached in both hard and soft skills for each higher level of management as they move upward toward top management, they shouldn’t have to utilize so-called political skills. Separately, I agree that leadership development needs to adapt to this situation. See my article on “A new path forward to leadership development success”.

    • Carol, Thanks for commenting. Most TM functions do not deal with the tougher business issues faced by senior and upper mgmt. Until they do, the function will continue to be something for lower and middle mgmt … and therefore of little practical business value to senior and upper mgmt.



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