Where will your next business leaders come from?

Britain is in the midst of a talent crisis and those employers who are yet to feel the pain of talent shortages are likely to feel the pressure soon. So how can businesses protect themselves from talent gaps at the top and build a robust leadership pipeline?

It’s all about succession planning

Businesses need to start thinking differently about their leaders and recognise that they might not be able to simply hire them as and when needed. Currently, businesses, especially owner-managed SMEs, have a very short-term approach to talent management, and often lack proper succession and development programmes. It’s surprising how few really think about the ‘people’ element when it comes to the sustainability of their business. 

And this is not only an issue for SMEs; many large corporations don’t have sufficient plans in place either. To identify future leaders, businesses need to regularly review their employees’ skill-sets and map these against future roles. This way they can identify strengths and gaps in the workforce and create a meaningful development plan for their employees.

Do you want the same as your high potential managers?

It’s important to look at the aspirations of people in the company as the people topping your ‘potentials’ list might not necessarily want to be leaders. Businesses can often make assumptions about their succession plan, without involving the people that they have in mind from the outset. But unless the individual sees this as their preferred progression route, the business can find itself in a difficult position. We often see this challenge with family run businesses where younger generations don’t want to take the business on. Again, this is not exclusively an issue for small businesses. 

Right Management’s latest research, The Flux Report, found that large organisations expect leadership teams to become younger and to be promoted from within the business, but at the same time, only a quarter of their line managers (24%) see themselves working there, in a more senior role, in five years’ time. It’s crucial that companies start engaging with and developing their leaders early on and that they have a more strategic workforce plan in place to ensure the organisation’s goals and those of its employees are aligned.

Think differently

We are looking at a future with four or five generations in one workplace; a future without physical or cultural boundaries which is constantly evolving, and a future where traditional higher education is less affordable. You have to question whether what were standard criteria for current leaders will still be appropriate for the future workplace. Businesses need to start thinking differently about what is really important in the selection process. 

For example, intimate knowledge of the industry is teachable, whereas being a good fit for the company’s culture isn’t. Exploring the ‘teachable fit’ of their own employees may present businesses with a wider and stronger pool of potential leaders.
In order to plan for the future workforce, businesses need to identify employees who are strong communicators and who have the ability to adapt to working in different environments, and with different generations and cultures of people.

Getting out of the ‘here and now’ mind frame is the most important challenge that businesses must meet in order to develop future business leaders. Companies really need to think differently about their priorities and start developing their own people now to be prepared for the future.

Willma Tucker is Principal Consultant at Right Management.

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