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Businesses risk an ‘abyss-like gap’ in their leadership teams, say experts

10 Jul 2018 By Maggie Baska

Third of employees think their company isn’t doing enough to spot potential leaders

A third (33 per cent) of UK employees think their company does not do enough to prime or identify potential leaders, creating pitfalls in succession planning, according to research published today. 

The study by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) also revealed that nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of workers thought that not enough training was offered to potential leaders before they moved into a leadership role, and one in five (22 per cent) said their business lacked support structures for workers who wanted to move into management. 

Helen Brand, chief executive at the ACCA, said identifying and training potential leaders was an “essential part of any business strategy”, but the survey results suggested it “isn’t a priority” for many companies.  

“Without correct leadership, UK businesses will continue to spend more time and money to rectify the negative impact of poor leadership, which results in a high turnover; losing staff with key skills and experience,” Brand warned. 

But Mark Swain, director of partnerships for executive education at Henley Business School, told People Management the survey results did not surprise him, and said he thought employees could become even more disengaged with their company’s leadership plans in the future. 

“In my experience, more organisations have lightened up or turned the tap down in terms of the management development they are offering,” Swain said. “In the desire to do it right, I think many people have accidentally switched it off.” 

Swain warned an “abyss-like gap for leadership” could mean that people “aren’t going to volunteer for management” or that they could struggle with the transition, “which is bad for their confidence, resilience and wellbeing”. 

“They may even struggle with any future leadership role because they don’t have the grounding,” he continued. “It’s like trying to go to university just from GCSEs. You wouldn’t do that.”

The ACCA also said its research highlighted “how British firms aren’t investing enough in succession planning” after a quarter of respondents said they could not name their next boss if their current one quit. 

Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD and co-director at recruitment adviser Inclusive Talent, added that her experiences indicated a “lack of confidence in leadership in the existing [UK] workforce”.  

“It is concerning that around a third of employees don’t think there is enough being done to find successors,” McCartney said. “While in the past this process might have been secretive, that shouldn’t be the case anymore. Employees need to understand the succession process.”

Dr Amanda Goodall, senior lecturer in management at Cass Business School, told People Management that organisations had “become very shortsighted” when it comes to succession planning. 

“We have become obsessed with bringing people from outside the business,” she added. “We need to focus on the internal talent. We should be focusing much more on turning organisations inside-out and using the most of the resources we have.”

The ACCA survey also found that 29 per cent of respondents had not moved into a management position because there was “no opportunity to move up”, while a quarter (25 per cent) said there was no financial incentive for the additional responsibility. More than one in ten workers said they did not seek a management role because their organisation lacked inspirational leadership role models. 

Earlier this year, Robert Half research revealed that nearly half (47 per cent) of external leadership appointments at FTSE 100 companies were international hires

At the time, Jessica Pattinson, head of immigration at Dentons, told People Management that FTSE leadership would be increasingly international because the companies “need the flexibility to recruit the best talent, whether that is talent from the UK, Europe or further afield”. 

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