Diversity’s Growing Value to Succession Planning

Case Studies From Cox Communications, Kaiser Permanente, Deloitte

By Barbara Frankel

Janice Roberts, Cox Communications

Janice Roberts grew up in South Carolina, where an early attraction to math and science convinced her to “work for the phone company.” That led to a career as an engineer, IT/marketing/sales expert and management/operations consultant at companies including Bell South and Accenture.

In 2011, Roberts decided she was ready for a new opportunity. She was interested in Cox Communications because of the company’s stated “personal values based on family and community.” An interview with a high-level person at Cox, who also was a Black female, sealed the deal and Roberts came on as Vice President of Field Services.

“I’m staying here for the foreseeable future,” she says. “I like Cox—the company, the people, the opportunity to make a difference. It’s a results-oriented culture where you articulate a strategy and see it come through to fruition.”

After a successful career as an executive in the healthcare industry, Gregory Adams joined Kaiser Permanente in 1999. He had started his career as a nurse and moved into management and leadership. “Early mentors helped me to see and understand my capacity beyond what I was able to see at the time. As is often the case for people of color, our vision for what we could do can be limited by factors that don’t allow us to see how far we could go.”

Gregory Adams, Kaiser Permanente

He was attracted to Kaiser Permanente because of its inclusive history and culture. “I had worked in the Southern California market and I knew Kaiser Permanente had a strong social program and a history of diversity. It was an opportunity for me to join an organization that aligned with my values and to be part of a forward-moving model that I believed then—and continue to believe—is the healthcare model for this country,” he says.

Today, Adams is Executive Vice President, Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan; Group President, Kaiser Permanente Northern California and Mid-Atlantic States; and President, Kaiser Permanente Northern California. He reports to Chairman and CEO Bernard Tyson.

His success at the organization is due in part to Kaiser Permanente’s “thoughtful approach” to succession planning, he says. He cites the impact of the employee resource groups, the depth of mentoring and role models, and the commitment of senior leadership.

Roberts and Adams are success stories—examples of talented professionals who came into inclusive companies, were comfortably on-boarded and are reaching their potential.

Case Study No. 1: Cox Communications

Roberts was hired at a company that emphasizes diversity in its succession planning, one of the reasons Cox is No. 18 in the DiversityInc Top 50.

Michelle Castleman, Director, Talent Development, notes that President Pat Esser and his executive team met three times last year to discuss the talent pipeline, with a focus on the executive-director (officer) level and above. “When they talk about the talent, they talk about what people are capable of doing next. It’s very deliberate, especially to include females and minorities,” she says, adding, “It was revisited a second and then a third time to really, truly make sure if there were individuals in the organization we felt were capable of advancement, then we were not leaving anyone out.”

Michelle Castleman, Cox Communications

In considering promotions, Cox looks at individuals who have had excellent performance reviews, who have the aspiration and engagement to succeed at more senior levels and across the organization, and who consistently achieve stretch goals and show strong potential to lead.

Cox hires at least 50 percent of its executive talent from outside. Like Roberts, these leaders are attracted to the culture but need strong on-boarding experiences to make them successful.

Roberts and other executives who are brought in from outside develop an assimilation plan, in which they have to establish organizational relationships and develop credibility within Cox. For Roberts, that was essential. “Being a Black woman in a technology field sometimes is a big hurdle because it can take a lot to make people believe in you,” she says.

She went on the road for a “listening tour” to explore areas of opportunity and get to know her six direct reports, six people who have dotted-line responsibility to her, and understand the needs of the 3,700 people who fall under her area of responsibility.

Cox gives new executives from outside and inside executive coaches. Cox also has a mentoring program for high-potential leaders, especially those from underrepresented groups, Castleman says. A pilot program last year made 55 matches, with mentees up to the senior-manager level.

While Roberts wasn’t part of this program, she is in several mentoring relationships and has also become active on Cox’s diversity council.

“This is my 31st year working so I have a long track record in a number of organizations. Cox is one of the most diverse organizations, especially in getting ideas and opinions,” she says. “I know it is a really big deal here.”

Case Study No. 2: Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente, No. 4 in the DiversityInc Top 50, has an extremely diverse board of directors, senior-management staff and pipeline to the top. Both internal and external recruiters are expected to build diverse slates and all executive openings are reviewed by Senior Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer Chuck Columbus and Senior Vice President, National Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and Policy and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Ronald Copeland.

Robert Sachs, Cox Communications

Diversity is a priority at Kaiser Permanente, and that extends to internal and external moves to the higher levels. “There’s a recognition that the more diverse ideas you have, the more solutions you are going to have. We don’t see it as a separate effort; diversity of leadership guides all that we do,” says Robert Sachs, Vice President, National Learning and Development.

For example, Kaiser Permanente has an Executive Leadership Program at Harvard Business School and diversity is a factor in determining recommendations.

The organization itself hires externally and internally; last year, about half of the 90 openings at the executive level were filled with external candidates. “We use our own internal executive recruiting group that utilizes a process that includes an explicit focus on diversity. When we do work with an external firm, their performance is graded on their ability to bring diverse slates,” Sachs says.

“The framework we use to assure we are bringing diversity into our pipeline is the same framework we use to assure we have the broad quality of leadership that we need. We are not approaching it as a diversity initiative but as how we want to build our talent.”

In building talent pipelines, Kaiser Permanente looks at the diversity of the employee population to see if there is disconnect and whether potential unconscious bias is screening out people.

The organization also launched a Virtual Leadership Academy leadership-development program geared toward members of its employee resource groups.

“Everyone gets an opportunity to develop. Embedding diversity into the process minimizes the concern that people are getting special treatment,” Sachs says.

Adams adds that senior leaders are now working even harder to be visible role models to people from underrepresented groups, to increase their exposure down the pipeline.

Case Study No. 3: Deloitte

Deloitte, No. 11 in the DiversityInc Top 50, has made a significant effort to identify and develop high-potential leaders from underrepresented groups.  The firm’s NextGen program is a class of younger-generation partners who have demonstrated the ability to eventually move into the highest levels of the organization.

Lissa Perez, Deloitte

NextGen’s first class came in 2011, says Lissa Perez, a Partner in Deloitte & Touche, LLP who was in that class, along with former Chief Diversity Officer John Zamora, who now is National Managing Partner, Audit.

The first class had about 100 people and subsequent classes averaged a little more than 60 people each. The program is multi-year and involves a peer network, external coaching, cross-functional experience and executive sponsorship. “Leadership development includes participating in offsite experiences in conjunction with external leadership associates. For instance, through a special relationship, the NextGen Experience includes valuable leadership training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.,” Perez says.

The NextGen classes have been more than 25 percent Blacks, Latinos and Asians, and more than 30 percent women. Leaders of each business are consulted about who should participate, as are the chief succession officers and the chief talent officers. Candidates are assessed for intellectual potential, people potential, change potential and motivational potential. The vast majority of participants have taken on significantly larger roles since participating in the program.

Deloitte also has an Emerging Leaders Development Program specifically geared toward Black, Latino and Asian managers and senior managers. The program, which began in 2004, had 160 participants last year. Perez says, “Initially, people were hesitant. They didn’t want to be singled out as someone who needed development. Now, it’s a coveted role. People want to get into it. It motivates people to work hard so they qualify.”

Deloitte also has emphasized formal sponsorship for the past five years.  “We found that women had more mentors but fewer sponsors. … At the end of the day, the sponsors often are what make the difference in progressing,” Perez says.

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