Preparing future leaders

Written by
David Joel

09 Sep 2016

09 Sep 2016 • by David Joel

Developing future talent is considered a strategic priority by 60% of HR professionals, but only 47% have a dedicated programme designed to bring on that talent.

This is the finding of a recent online survey, carried out by Changeboard on behalf of the Institute of Directors (IoD), to ascertain how many organisations have a strategy for identifying future leaders, or a dedicated ‘leadership pipeline’. A pipeline is a six-stage programme of talent development, designed to avoid a talent vacuum, which invests in employees on the first rung of the ladder through to CEO-level.

Survey participants came from all levels of senior management within HR and from companies of all sizes. 

Results revealed an ongoing confidence in a traditional approach to leadership training, with 62% of respondents agreeing that “coaching and mentoring” is the most effective way to develop leaders.
However, this may not meet all business needs, according to IoD course leader and leadership expert David Joel, who focuses on the director’s role in leading the organisation and developing board performance: “Coaching and mentoring can be part of an overarching or holistic approach to director development,” he accepts.

“However, if rapid results are needed, coaching and mentoring may not be the best solution. You need a combination of activities, including face-to-face, bite-size and online learning. Once a member of staff is in the new role, enhance that with coaching and mentoring.”

He adds that “we need a world in which talent can try out leadership skills and make a few mistakes. The danger is that a succession plan can almost have a ‘God effect’ on an aspiring director. When they get into the boardroom, and the theoretical models don’t work as expected, they become a ‘rabbit in headlights’. It’s about preparing them for that moment.”

When developing a leadership strategy, a lack of skills among the existing leadership team was rated as the biggest challenge for HR, followed by budget constraints; gaining senior-level buy-in; and an ever-changing workforce.

Diversity of thought

Meanwhile, 67% of respondents admitted they have no diversity strategy for future talent. Joel argues that diversity is more about bringing different ideas and new ways of thinking to a business, than filling posts according to demographics. “People focus on gender, but diversity is much broader than that,” he says. “The key idea is ‘diversity of thought’.”

“Succession planning is something we blandly trot out that we need, but why do we need it?” questions Joel. “It’s about driving the business forward. You need talent coming through to maintain momentum.”