Vacancy at the top: just one in five organisations are prepared

It’s a familiar sight. Time and again, organisations are caught out by the sudden departure of senior leaders, and forced to scrabble to find replacements. In the meantime, of course, the organisation drifts, rudderless, while recruiters and directors struggle to fill the gap. Succession planning? You’d think the concept had never been invented.

But it has been invented—and research carried out at Cranfield School of Management, in association with talent management software firm Halogen Software and HR Zone, shows, disturbingly, that most organisations are fairly bad at it.

And the headline figures make worrying reading.

  • Just under half of organisations—46%—have a talent management strategy, and almost a third of those that do have one think that their strategy is not working well.
  • Just 19% of organisations—that’s fewer than one in five—are prepared for the departure of senior leaders.
  • Just 17% of organisations—again, less than one in five—reckon that they are making effective use of HR technology to support talent management.

Talent matters

What to make of this? It’s difficult to escape the conclusion that despite the attention paid to talent management by human resources consultants and the human resources media, the actual reality on the ground is very different, with talent management being largely ignored.

It’s no wonder, then, that with so little attention paid to succession planning, many organisations subsequently find themselves unprepared for the departure of senior leaders.

And not just senior leaders. The whole point about taking a holistic approach to talent management is that it embraces not just those highly-visible and strategically important leaders at the top, but also those lower down the organisation who possess specialist skills, or who would be difficult to replace.

For the reality is that while those at the top can be discouraged from leaving through grants of share options, longer contract terms, and various forms of ‘handcuffs’, those lower down the organisation—but who nevertheless possess specialist skills—can leave at almost any time, with potentially devastating results if a succession plan is not in place.

And quite simply, our research suggests that rather than taking a long term, strategic approach to managing talent, employers are still being reactive, and are not developing joined up strategies to ensure that they have the skills and competencies that their organisation needs.

What to do?

It’s one thing to be urged to embrace talent management, and quite another to actually do so, of course.

Succession planning, and building a leadership pipeline, takes time and effort. And yet the evidence is that when organisations do make the effort, those efforts are rewarded. Consider Shell, for instance, or America’s GE.

Helpfully, technology is making the process easier, and the effort less painful. Talent management and succession planning solutions help to build a deep bench of leadership and skills, as well as sending a strong signal to high-potential employees that their employer values them.

But only if organisations have the requisite insight and willpower to make an investment in such solutions.

And so far, as our research here at Cranfield highlights, the evidence suggests that many organisations are only just beginning to realise the benefits of a holistic talent management strategy.

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