Succession planning – the leadership talent gap
We all have them, often referred to as the ‘old guard’… those usually of the older age range who hold a lot of knowledge in the organisation. They’ve been there, done it all and got the t-shirts. These people are highly valuable to any business, we often rely on them heavily for insight, opinions and decision making. They’re the leaders of our department and our teams. Losing one of these individuals whether it be to an alternative career or even to retirement can cause organisational issues. I’ve been experiencing some of this recently with some clients, sometimes being managed well and sometimes not so well.
You’re only as good as the strength on your bench
How do we avoid such issues? Well succession planning of course! Some, and I’d go as far to say as MOST leadership teams will be aware of this and will make attempts to plan for it by hiring high potential talent down the ranks that in the future will come up and grab those seats.
But to make succession planning work, you need that bench strength!
Where organisations often come unstuck is when they fail to nurture, develop, train and generally look after those high potential superstars. Bringing them in to the fold early often works well, I see a lot of buddying systems in organisations… where one of the ‘old guard’ buddies up with one of the up and comers who get to learn from the best. These works well because the more junior member feels like they’re getting the opportunity to progress and the more senior member gets that reassurance that they’re not getting pushed out (which is a common feeling) and they’re getting to share knowledge and have influence.
Ending up in no man’s land
This strategic succession planning doesn’t always work though or it doesn’t happen at all. What sometimes happens is that those on the bench don’t get nurtured, developed and all of those things because the leadership team refuse to plan or even think about it.
This creates a feeling of going nowhere in the young talent, so they go somewhere else. The cycle continues and organisations fail to bring talent up the ranks. You then get what we call the ‘the talent gap’ or ‘no man’s land’ where there’s a massive gap between the talent at the bottom and the top.
A leadership member then leaves and thus issues arise.
Filling the talent gap – the balancing act
Filling this gap can be a delicate operation, usually there are two options;
1. Accelerate someone – take a junior member of the team and push them up quicker than anticipated. This works in some cases and in some positions, usually in finance, marketing, sales types roles this is a fairly easy transition even if it is unexpected. These roles tend to have clearer routes of progression and tend to have more apprentice style training. Thus this sometimes works.
2. Look outside – in our experience, engineering, R&D and regulatory roles in particular don’t have clear leadership routes, so they end up having to recruit to fill the roles. This can cause a whole load of other issues and requires thought applied to:
- Cultural Fit
Can we recruit someone who’ll fit this role, fit in with the organisation and not bring a whole bunch of previously learnt traits that don’t work with our style of operating.
- Internal Friction
How do we recruit someone that’ll be able to balance a leadership role, not rub the ‘old guard’ the wrong way and not cause friction with the younger talent whom perhaps thought that it should be their job.
- The How’s & Where’s
Where do we find this talent and how do we get it? Do we need to look at competitors, or just aligned skill sets? Does this require discretion and therefore how do we handle this?
Getting it wrong will inevitably cause unsettlement amongst the team but getting it right can often to lead to super performance!
Dealing with this…
I’ve been dealing with a number of these ‘black hole’ positions over the past 12 months. It is quite common in the Meditech space due to organisations often experiencing growth through acquisition but also growth at a fast pace. What has been key in filling them has been truly understanding the role, the organisation and what fit is required. Through a partnership approach with the client we’re finding the right people and seeing them slotting in place successfully.