When Kate Zimberg joined F5
Networks in March 2019, she entered an
organization that had seen its share of recent change at the executive level.
Over a roughly two-year span, for
example, the Seattle-based application services provider had welcomed a new
CHRO, a new chief executive officer, and multiple other new members of the C-suite.
With a number of new faces in the
C-suite, the time seemed right to assess F5’s approach to succession planning,
says Zimberg, the company’s vice president of employee experience and
F5’s succession management strategy
had long been “fairly traditional,” she says. For instance, high-potential
employees were classified as being ready for leadership positions now, ready in
one-to-two-years, ready in three-to-five years, and so on. While the intent has
been to groom these individuals accordingly, specific plans were not formally captured
or intentionally aligned against what is most needed in the role for the
The process had its limitations,
however; particularly the rigid timeframes in which high potentials were
expected to move into those jobs and the lack of focus on the future needs of
“Realistically, people do not develop
in annual increments as cleanly as implied by the traditional approach,” says
Zimberg. “And, by the time a person is ready for a particular position, the job
has significantly changed anyway.”
The conversations that Zimberg had
with the executive team led to not only eliminating such timelines, but to the
adoption of a new progression plan template to replace former succession
“Progression planning is an evolved
approach we’re taking to identify successors for executive roles and,
importantly, to clearly define how we will progress each potential successor
along the path of readiness,” says Zimberg.
Progression planning represents a
significant change from F5’s more traditional approach, she says. For example, specific
capabilities are identified that differentiate each role being planned, with an
eye on future needs.
For starters, labels such as “ready
in one-to-two years” or “ready in three-to-five years” are a thing of the past.
“Instead, we list potential
successors on a scale with those to the far left ready to step into the role
today, and those needing more development and experience further to the right,
resulting in a relative view of readiness,” says Zimberg.
Progression plans at F5 also focus on
a set of differentiated experiences that are what Zimberg describes as
“non-traditional development opportunities that have been pivotal to people in
these roles.” For example, meaningful participation in investor calls would be
an important experience for a would-be CFO. At the executive level, the progression plans
have strong leadership capability – in alignment with F5’s leadership
principles – as table stakes. What differentiates
those who appear on the plans and their development plans are these
Leaders are also asked to identify
development opportunities for each identified successor that link directly to
the list of such focused experiences.
The goal, says Zimberg, is to ensure
a strong connection between the needs of the role and the potential successor’s
“At its core, this approach is much
more about how we move people along to be ready for executive roles. There’s
much more of a focus on what the key capabilities are that really differentiate
F5 is in early stages of using this
new approach and continuing to evolve it, including putting an even stronger
focus on ensuring diversity in progression plans and examining how this new
approach will be applied as “progression pools” for levels below the
C-suite. “Learning as we go is an
important aspect of this new approach,” says Zimberg.