As employees continue to prioritise their well-being, organisations should focus on career advancement opportunities, flexible work arrangements, and mentorship programmes to help attract and retain top talent.
By Simon Kent
Post-pandemic workforce dynamics have undoubtedly had their impact on the internal development of talent. According to research from learning company imc, 42% of managers are not looking for ways to develop their teams. This stands against the 43% of employees who say that they want to develop in their current role and the 92% who feel this activity directly impacts their loyalty. Up against a far from comfortable economic background, imc suggests companies need to remedy their position and ensure employees are given the development they need if they want to be sure they’ll keep and maintain the right talent.
“Succession planning serves multiple purposes,” says Claire Raistrick, senior global HR business partner for imc Learning, “and whilst it comes with challenges, finding the right balance between keeping institutional knowledge, promoting continuity, and introducing innovative ideas, is crucial for the long-term success of a company.”
Raistrick argues that while the pandemic has made the task of succession planning more complex, the bigger challenge has been companies losing focus on long-term issues and prioritising short-term goals as is the case at the moment. “This can lead to a focus on external hiring to fill immediate skills gaps rather than investing in the development of internal talent for future leadership roles,” she says.
Neil Morrison, chief people officer at internal comms platform Staffbase, views the issue from the other end of the employment relationship. “Organisations can no longer depend on employees who traditionally prioritise loyalty, tenure, and vertical career progression toward the ‘top jobs,’” he says.
If nothing else, employees have had recent first-hand experience of asserting more control, or at least influence, over how and where they work and what they get out of their employment relationship. “To attract, retain, and develop top talent, it’s crucial to foster a deep sense of purpose, provide opportunities for personal growth, and offer more than just traditional career paths and compensation,” says Morrison. “Today, top talent values flexible work arrangements, a reimagined approach to time, diverse developmental experiences, job-crafting, and equitable access to inspiring mentorship and external connections – all of which are of significant importance and shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Creating an internal talent plan that brings together organisational requirements and the motivations of the workforce is no easy task. “HR needs to intricately link internal engagement data, workforce demographics, and external societal shifts in expectations to revamp their approach to talent and succession management,” says Morrison. “Segmenting, understanding, and managing talent is as vital for organisational continuity as it is for proactively driving strategic value and shareholder success.”
If creating the plan is a challenge, businesses should bear in mind that doing this could unlock extra value from their workforce and answer some of the questions posed by the current skill shortages.
“In many sectors, particularly those experiencing the worst skills shortages, we’ve seen employers promoting staff internally when perhaps their previous go-to would have been to recruit externally,” says Mandy Watson, director of Ambitions Personnel. “With so much focus turning to employee retention and the importance of holding onto the experience you have within your business, especially when faced with competition from rival employers tempting staff with inflated pay rates and benefits, offering fast-track promotions, better career prospects and access to valuable training and development schemes could be somewhat of a secret weapon.”
However, as Watson points out, this approach will only work as a long-term solution if there are enough employees coming through the process. There’s also the consideration of the additional time and costs that come with a heavier reliance on training and development. “It’s still a balancing act and recruitment teams don’t look like they’ll be able to sit back and relax anytime soon,” Watson comments.
As organisations focus their search for skills and factor training and external talent acquisition into the equation, Neil Morrison says organisations should expect dealing with talent more generally, rather than specificallyaddressing internal and external options. “Ideologically the notion of ‘external vs internal’ has never been a reality in terms of one or the other,” he says. “In a fast-growing organisation, both are essential, but clarity on their specific purposes is vital. Building and nurturing strong management practice from internally promoted talent is crucial for scalability. Simultaneously, understanding the specific capabilities that can’t be met internally drives the recruitment of external talent needed for growth.”
Vincent Belliveau, chief international officer at Cornerstone, suggests that technology may be on hand to help organisations assess employees and identify the best route for them through the organization. “Based on the findings of our 2023 research study, there’s no doubt that employees are hungry for growth and development opportunities, and require increased career transparency,” reports Belliveau. “As technology and tools become smarter and more interconnected, the manager’s role in employee growth is changing and AI has the power to align individual career ambitions with company objectives, delivering real impact to the bottom line.”
But technology isn’t everything. Companies who want to make internal development work must be ready to lean into what Belliveau terms as employee career mobility. “As technology and tools become smarter and more interconnected, the manager’s role in employee growth is changing and AI has the power to align individual career ambitions with company objectives,” he concludes.
“Succession plans should be flexible and adaptable to changing business needs and industry dynamics,” says Raistrick. “This includes being open to adjusting plans based on the evolving skill requirements and strategic aims of the company.”
Of course, not every business may be able to offer a direct pathway to the top for every recruit. However, Raistrick argues organisations with a culture of meritocracy, clear career development programs, and a commitment to internal talent development may successfully consider and deliver supplying such pathways. “A well-structured and transparent approach to career progression can enhance recruitment and retention strategies, fostering a motivated and skilled workforce,” she says.