Across the globe, many firms in the post pandemic era found themselves short of leadership talent—and then faced a pent-up need to populate the leadership pipeline quickly. In the natural resources sector in particular, finding talent is difficult and expensive, since there are only a few large diversified natural resources companies making up the bulk of the industry. “We didn’t want to take two years,” says Purohit. “Aligned to our core philosophy of growing leaders from within, we wanted to identify leaders and get them into new roles right away, even if they were not fully ready.”
It would require a succession process that could move as fast as business in the post-COVID era. So, Anil Agarwal, Vedanta’s Founder, and Executive Vice Chairman Navin Agarwal came up with a monumental challenge: complete the process in five to six weeks. They had the vision and were staunchly committed to it, which inspired everyone involved,” says Navnit Singh, Chairman and Regional Managing Director of India for Korn Ferry. “They turned the succession planning on its head.”
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To get a sense of how large the challenge was, consider that the process, dubbed internally as the “Management Act-Up” program, started with 1,800 candidates. Talent analytics quickly whittled the list of candidates to 500, and conducted testing to identify traits, drivers, experiences and other factors that were mapped to success profiles, created by Korn Ferry to further dwindle the number of prospects down to about 230.
Still, for Vedanta to meet its accelerated timeline, there needed to be a way to assess the remaining candidates quickly and efficiently. The team, led internally by Purohit and at Korn Ferry by Sandeep Bhalla, a senior partner & consulting leader in India, found inspiration in the television show “Shark Tank.” The hit show features entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to an expert panel of established business leaders and investors, who provide real-time feedback and make on-the-spot decisions about whether to invest or not.
“Instead of the traditional assessment process, which could take several months, we thought why not assess them on the spot like in ‘Shark Tank,’” says Bhalla.
Such an approach likely wouldn’t have worked at most other Indian companies, says Parikshit Bhasin, a former MD at Nokia India who was on the panel. “I was amazed to see an Indian company trying this innovative strategy to give opportunities to its internal talent,” says Bhasin, crediting Vedanta’s founders with the vision and commitment to carry it through.
The panel of external experts convened by the company spanned a wide range of fields and functions, from board directors, ex-CEOs/CFOs and former industry leaders to legal, human resources and finance executives. The 230 shortlisted executives were asked to pitch the panel on a plan related to a critical Vedanta business priority and their personal aspiration, which was also a unique element since most succession evaluations involve simulating a business issue or experience. The pitch consisted of a 30-minute presentation and another half-hour for questions from the panel. Afterward, panelists convened to score candidates on five criteria—among them strategic thinking, commercial acumen, innovation and ability to influence stakeholders—and give developmental feedback in real-time.