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Recruiting and nurturing high-potential talent is key to future-proofing companies in a competitive landscape.
A shortage of talent combined with rising burnout in the wake of 2021’s business challenges left many companies scrambling to find the right candidate for the job. When leadership roles are unexpectedly left empty, the focus typically turns to filling the gap as soon as possible. And while agility is often praised as key to resilience, such experiences highlight the need for a more durable solution to keep the talent pipeline flowing. In this sense, the most robust businesses are those that prioritise succession planning.
As organisations across the globe expand and look to the future, it is clear that a reactive approach will not be enough to ensure long-term stability. Angela Yang, Partner Southeast Asia explains:
The biggest lesson that many of my clients learned from the pandemic is the importance of having alternatives and backups in place when unforeseen circumstance arise, such as suddenly losing an executive leader. From now on, I think companies will more diligently stress-test their business continuity plans and succession planning.
Angela Yang, Partner South East Asia
Succession planning is particularly critical for companies to remain competitive in industries with high turnover, such as technology and healthcare. Competition for the best executive candidates is fierce, making succession planning and talent management all the more relevant to these sectors. As a result, forward-thinking recruiters should search for not only executive talent, but promising mid-level and senior candidates who could soon be ready for top leadership positions.
Global competition for executive talent has only become fiercer, while companies continue to struggle with employee retention and burnout. Succession planning is essential for businesses to tap their internal talent pool, and avoid the risk and expense of external hiring at short notice. The best recruiters should be on the lookout for candidates who are eager to learn and grow, and more likely to stay with an organisation over time.
Although the benefits are significant, many organisations have neglected to invest in succession planning. This oversight may be due to various factors. In a dynamic market, attention and resources can easily shift from talent retention to recruitment. Meanwhile, some business leaders may be reluctant to enter frank conversations that acknowledge the inevitable: that at some point, even the best employees will need to be replaced.
Creating a culture that embraces change and professional development is vital to future-proofing companies. Through succession planning, organisations make it easier to fill potential openings while boosting worker loyalty and engagement. Career progression pathways and talent development programmes provide a clear blueprint to achieving realistic aspirations and can help ensure that high-potential employees feel valued and motivated. As a result, businesses can expect a decrease in employee turnover and an increase in productivity.
Succession planning is especially important to retaining top performers, whose contributions are even more valuable in highly complex fields. McKinsey estimates that high performers in these environments are eight times more productive than average performers. Personalised career development programmes can therefore play a major role in protecting an organisation’s most talented employees, who are among the quickest to leave if disengaged and the most expensive to replace.
Building a robust succession plan
External recruitment partners can play a vital function in establishing a succession plan that ranges from initial hiring to the highest levels of talent development. In many businesses, a common mistake is to leave the responsibility of succession planning solely in the hands of HR. While the HR team should be entrusted to set up meaningful performance reviews and to encourage a culture of talent development, cross-departmental collaboration is needed to determine talent gaps and identify top performers across different functions and geographies. This is particularly relevant to filling senior leadership roles in highly specialised or technical areas, where a poor fit can have negative consequences for daily operations and the business as a whole.
C-suite leaders should implement a succession plan early on to avoid gaps in leadership and to prevent the pressure to make hasty decisions when a senior leader leaves unexpectedly. Long-term succession planning involves identifying high-potential employees and providing them with exposure to responsibilities and skills training beyond their current role. By working together with an external partner, organisations can see how to best position themselves in their market.
According to Simonetta Saprio, Senior Partner and Global Healthcare and Life Sciences Practice Leader:
Companies increasingly benchmark between their internal resources and external ones, not only to ensure the robustness of their succession plan, but to also better understand how to attract promising talent and how to upskill their workforce to meet market needs.
Simonetta Saprio, Senior Partner & Global Healthcare and Life Sciences Partner
By creating benchmarks for next-level positions, leaders can measure the readiness of employees to be promoted. At the same time, customised assessments should be carried out to evaluate the unique skillset of each candidate, as well as to ensure that their career progression aligns with their own professional ambitions. These processes can be integrated into leadership development or fast-track management programmes, which themselves serve as added incentives for high-achieving employees.
Crucially, an effective succession plan takes a holistic approach to talent management. It is not enough to focus on preparing candidates for the most senior leadership roles, because every internal promotion leaves behind a new vacancy. Succession planning must take these consequences into account in order to produce a resilient talent pipeline. Business leaders ought to consider the short-term as well as the long-term needs throughout the organisation, identifying candidates who may be ready for a new position in one, two or three years, and any potential gaps where external recruitment may be required.
Specialised expertise and experience are valuable resources in any industry. By developing their own talent pool, companies stand a better chance of weathering unexpected storms. However, succession planning is not simply an emergency preparedness tool. When implemented thoughtfully, a succession plan promotes learning, improves engagement and retention, and ensures the preservation and transfer of knowledge and key skills.
Yang notes, “In the past, most companies needed succession planning to launch new businesses or strategies. They required skillsets such as self-initiative, innovation and a willingness to learn so as to drive these changes.” Today, we find that succession planning is itself a cost-effective strategy to make companies more competitive. Nonetheless, establishing a succession plan from the ground up can be a daunting task. To begin with, organisations might consider seeking external guidance or outsourcing the succession planning workload.
A supportive external partner should be able to provide the tools and knowledge for assessing internal talent and appointing the right leaders. At Page Executive, we help companies to not only identify executive talent, but to map out the entire talent pipeline. Saprio says, “Our role goes beyond filling vacancies to helping clients redesign their organisation as a whole. A key part of this process is to evaluate talent and competencies through executive assessments and executive coaching.” Such an approach is essential to developing high-potential candidates over the long term and building the resilience to thrive, no matter what the future brings.
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