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Leadership is in the spotlight for many businesses and the CMI’s chief executive Ann Francke warns that the need for more highly skilled managers across UK businesses had been “dangerously overlooked”, calling on the government to better support businesses in preparing leaders of the future.

Here we examine the short and long-term benefits of ensuring that succession planning is a cornerstone of every business.

Succession planning

A survey of 101 MPs found that just 24 per cent said that improving the quality of management and leadership in UK business, public services and other organisations should be a high priority for the government in the year ahead.

However, leadership dictates the outcomes and culture of entire organisations, so why is this area being overlooked? Strong leadership delivers better organisational performance, but the statistics are not reflecting that this is being fostered in practice.

72 per cent of employers have experienced employees threatening to leave, according to our spring 2023 UK Reward Management Survey. 50 per cent of businesses also report that they are sometimes or often unable to meet employees’ career development opportunities, which jeopardises both their existing talent and their future leaders.

The fundamentals of leadership

In our HR Workshops, several organisations reported that they have been conducting management and specifically leadership training for the purposes of succession planning. Fostering these key skills from the outset ensures that people are equipped to handle the management side of the business. This particularly applies if employees are specialists in the business, such as lawyers or engineers, who want to progress into management positions.

Often companies will promote based on merit. However, overlooking the career trajectory and the wider skillset required for more senior roles as employees progress undermines the journey to success in leadership. Career mapping is essential to identify and target learning and development programmes.

Talent needs to be looked at with a wider lens, to ensure that the whole skillset of an individual is taken into consideration. This ensures that the specialist skills of individuals are developed in tandem with ‘softer’ skills such as communication, crisis management and people development that are vital skills for successful line management and beyond.

Lifelong learning and development

The reported ‘leadership crisis’ requires a practical approach to training and development. Leaders need to be equipped with the tools to effectively coach their teams and uphold the standards they want for their teams from the outset.

With the pace of change being accelerated by technology, formal learning is necessarily replaced by a mixture of experience, continuous learning and mentoring. This highlights the importance of a robust learning and development strategy that is available to everyone – from graduates to senior managers – to ensure employees can access effective management strategies and have the chance to put them into practice at the earliest opportunity.

Identifying future leaders can avoid the scenario where they are having to primarily learn on the job and by trial and error. By equipping them with a framework to make a positive impact through proven techniques, leadership qualities can be developed from the outset of individuals’ careers. A well designed and implemented, evidence-based programme can support every individual and drive engagement with employees in delivering projects and outcomes more effectively.

A recruitment and retention tool

The spring 2023 UK Reward Management Survey saw 61 per cent anticipating retention challenges and 66 per cent anticipating difficulty in recruiting people in the next six months. With recruitment and retention challenges persisting for organisations, examining the motivations for joining and staying with an organisation are important.

With 94 per cent reporting a lack of suitable candidates exacerbating recruitment and retention difficulties, building a strong pipeline of home-grown talent is a valuable way of future-proofing your business. Targeted management programmes designed for first time managers and more senior managers can tailor resources, time and attention to make upskilling an efficient process.

Gallup report that millennials are most likely to switch jobs, as people are seeking careers that feel worthwhile. Pivoting careers or having multiple careers is becoming increasingly popular. Whether that is purpose-driven, engagement can be driven by shared values and by employers offering development opportunities. Employee opinion surveys are an excellent tool to identify what employees want out of their work and the total reward strategy available to them.

A competitive advantage

Having leaders who can take decisive action in a fast-paced world will enable businesses to move quicker and gain the competitive edge they need to thrive. Agility and adaptability were underlined during the pandemic as critical indicators of how well businesses weathered the uncertainty.

Giving people the opportunity to test their skills and practically apply all they have learnt through learning and development programmes is crucial to building a strong foundation of experience. This also enables individuals to not only grow their knowledge, but their self-awareness.

The skills shortage remains a key challenge for businesses, which requires an effective strategy to examine the whole education journey through to incentives the government offer for vocational courses. Giving people the work experience to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and which route suits them best is crucial to helping close the skills gap and targeting training.

Setting the tone

Leadership is also pivotal in being a catalyst for long-term change. While the shorter-term benefits may be that recruitment and retention issues are overcome by offering greater development opportunities and career planning, longer-term cultural change can be achieved.

Facilitating greater diversity and inclusion in the workplace is at the top of the business agenda amidst reports of social mobility in the UK being at its lowest ebb for 50 years. Leadership sets the focus for businesses and can effect real change in this area by engaging with these issues and helping set the strategy to tackle inequality. Businesses are a microcosm of wider society, so leaders must realise their role in effecting meaningful change.

From targeted workplace experience to enable those from a lower socio-economic class to gain access to these places, to widening recruitment pools geographically and taking steps to minimise unconscious bias in recruitment, the leadership team dictates the onus that should be placed on these measures. This has a huge impact on culture and values, which again should be reinforced and role modelled by leadership teams.

Get in touch

Developing a culture of lifelong learning can develop able and sturdy leaders in an organisation which fosters an agile workforce. Our HR Workshops provide the opportunity to share advice and experiences on HR and reward practices, such as designing and implementing effective learning and development programmes to attract and retain the right talent. Get in touch to be invited to our upcoming sector groups and discuss how you can develop your future leaders.

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