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Nuclear Revolution

How to ease the coming upheaval in the nuclear power industry.

Fortnightly Magazine - July 2008

other top young talent who resent their former peer’s elevation might behave in ways that undermine the new leader.

Another alternative is to bring in strong leadership from outside the industry. Although the origins of the industry’s current leadership suggest that today’s industry prefers leaders who come from within the nuclear arena of a major utility, some companies may look for experienced leaders from process industries such as other types of electric power generation, chemicals and the like. Such an option may be unavoidable as the shortage of talent worsens. But there are also some positive reasons for looking farther afield. For example, companies that feel confident in their technical expertise may wish to bring in an outsider with a highly developed commercial sense. Moreover, by working under such leaders, executives whose backgrounds are exclusively in the nuclear industry will have an opportunity to broaden their commercial skills—and their career prospects.

However, because the industry has deep historical roots in the U.S. Navy’s nuclear program, there could be considerable cultural resistance to an outsider who has not been trained in a similar fashion. Such outsiders are likely to face a tough time if they are unable to win hearts and minds and quickly demonstrate that their experience is relevant and valuable.

Smoothing the Way

To mitigate the risk of tapping any of these unfamiliar sources of talent, it’s helpful to think of the process of acquiring a new leader as occurring in three stages: the preparatory stage of determining the position specifications; the exploratory stage of assessing the candidates; and the implementation stage, in which new leaders join the company and take charge. At each of these stages, proven principles can be applied and concrete steps taken to address the risks posed by new sources of talent.

First, before the search, determining company-specific requirements for the position will help define the skills, talents and experiences needed. Every company is different, and capturing one company’s uniqueness within the specifications for a position common to many companies requires insight and creativity. As the indispensable foundation for any search, the specifications should include the competencies expected of any leader and, more important, the specific competencies, relevant experiences, and personal characteristics required in the role in order to fulfill the company’s strategic vision.

For example, over the next several decades new nuclear plants will almost certainly be built in the United States. For many companies, leadership will be critical. That doesn’t mean that the new leader must have built a nuclear plant—especially given that no new nuclear plant has been built in the United States in more than 30 years—but it does mean that the job specifications for those companies will include that competency, and potential leaders will be expected to have at least analogous experience or otherwise relevant abilities.

In a sense, competencies tied specifically to strategic needs address cultural issues by transcending them. But company-specific cultural issues also can be addressed more directly in the job specifications. They should establish the fundamental leadership requirements and the unique leadership challenges related to the role. Also,