Succession planning: The board’s role in nurturing talent

With the pandemic everyone may think that the war for talent is at an end;  that people will just be sitting tight in their current roles and, that with the focus on cost, there will be little or no need for new talent.

With the pandemic everyone may think that the war for talent is at an end;  that people will just be sitting tight in their current roles and, that with the focus on cost, there will be little or no need for new talent.

Actually, that is not the case. Smart businesses need to be thinking now about how they retain their key talent, continue to develop key skills and capabilities within their current teams, while also continuing to bring in new talent.

Talent is the hot topic at the moment. There is a lot of discussion and debate on how the pandemic has changed our approach to work, and how have the wants and needs of our talent (current and future). That is, all impacts what employers/organisations need to think about and do moving forward. As I work with organisations on ‘what next’ for them it has made me reflect, and the following summarises my current thinking with regards to the board’s role in succession planning.

So people (employees and customers) are at the heart of what we all do and I have always believed that employees are an organisation’s talent pool – a huge investment is made in them.

This talent pool is your differentiator, your competitive advantage. We always need to be thinking about how we can continue to develop this talent pool and how we add to it even when it is a difficult situation and easier not to do. However, it is a multi-faceted topic, the discussion and role modelling need’s to start at the top with the board.

Many boards have had to dig deep during the pandemic, draw on all of their resilience and expertise as they support their businesses during a period of crisis. This means that in some cases board members have been asked to see through the year rather than make key changes in membership during a period when consistency in leadership, and organisational and business knowledge, has been key.

Now boards are starting to talk about the vacancies they need or now want to fill, areas of expertise that they lack or need to retain, who has shined in role (or not!) during the period of crisis and how they now move forward.

However, the world of recruitment and development has changed forever as a result of COVID-19.

  • Boards have found that they have been able to nimbly complete recruitment for key positions on a completely virtual basis. Recruitment does not need to revert back to the lengthy face-to-face process, consisting of multiple meetings. It’s important to retain what has worked well and reflects the future way of working. Candidates are also comfortable with this process; the approach taken tells them a lot about the organisation.
  • Boards have also found that a mix of institutional and organisational knowledge, with the benefits of external perspective and independence has been important. In some cases, this has determined that a key appointment during the crisis has needed to be a stretch internal appointment, as it would have been a risk to appointment someone completely knew to the business.
  • Additional support has then been put in place to ensure an internal stretch appointment is successful including coaching, mentoring and a detailed individual development plan. These also provide regulators with more comfort when approving proposed appointments and should be adopted for all appointments.
  • Boards have found that key skills and experiences were lacking during the crisis, and that their current mix of skills and expertise do not reflect the new challenges that they are facing, e.g. business transformation, technology, people and culture, and innovation and change. They now need to look at how they develop these skills sets internally for their future leaders, and supplement current levels quickly with external hires or advisory roles.

My closing thoughts:

  • Always plan for the future - new appointments create new opportunity
  • All appointments are a long term investment – make them wisely
  • Carefully consider the skills and expertise  - what does your board and business need to transform
  • Build the future skills and expertise into the development plans for future leaders
  • Onboarding support into a new Board role is important - for all appointees
  • When recruiting – ensure you receive a diverse candidate list
  • Monitor the diversity of your business’s succession planning – this is your talent pipeline. The more diverse, the more successful your business will be
  • Be aware of group think and hiring in type – and comments about ‘fit’ with the culture.

Annette Andrews

Annette Andrews is an Executive Coach and Advisor to Boards

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