Emerging from within

More organisations are making a strategic decision to grow talent from within instead of bringing in external candidates to fill senior roles. Amongst the many benefits, it ensures leadership continuity and reduces turnover

One of the key challenges that HR teams are facing today is the ability to attract talented professionals with the right skills set and attitude for the role and company. Similarly, talent retention is also an issue that continues to face the HR sector in Singapore, says Diana Low, Director, Michael Page International in Singapore.

This raging war for talent is becoming ever more ferocious and it is precisely in this landscape that organisations cannot afford to leave succession planning to luck and chance. “Now more than ever, organisations need to start succession planning earlier,” says Pushp Deep Gupta, Managing Principal, Korn/Ferry International, Leadership and Talent Consulting. “They need to dig deeper in the organisation hierarchy to build their leadership pipeline.”

The benefit of growing talent internally is that a professional’s longevity with a company allows them to have a strong knowledge of the business, which then promotes business continuity. This also allows retention of the best talent within the organisation and can ensure that the company’s future leaders are truly passionate and committed to the brand. This is also a benefit to the employee as it provides them with the opportunity to develop their career.

Grooming and developing talent internally not only helps train talent and reduce turnover, it also helps to attract talent as the organisation is able to offer a career instead of just a regular job, says Lilly Liang, HR Director – Greater China, Diageo.

“Internal succession planning reduces the length of vacancies in senior positions and provides stability to the team,” says Liang. “On top of that, internal promotion reduces recruitment and induction costs, whilst also minimising the risk of culture misfit.”


Identifying future leaders

To successfully carry out an internal succession planning exercise, HR professionals first need to identify and develop key talent for leadership based on the value they can potentially deliver tomorrow. Research by Korn/Ferry has shown that only 29% of high performers are high potentials while 93% of high potentials are high performers.

“HR must work closely with the business, be involved in regular communications with employees on performance and career goals, as well as identify the key attributes and skill sets required to be a company leader,” says Low.

“It is also important to ensure HR has a talent development programme that can train people to meet these criteria to take a senior position with the business.”

At Diageo, future leaders are identified through calibration, succession planning and spotlighting. “We identify future leaders from both function competencies and leadership,” says Liang.


Grooming internal talent

Internal talent can be developed through training and development programmes, including internal and external leadership coaching programmes.

“Companies should definitely tailor these programmes around different stages of a professional’s career to address their various developmental needs,” says Low.

Potential leaders navigate through several career transitions through the span of their career including from an individual contributor (e.g. sales person) to a team leader (e.g. sales manager), from a team leader (e.g. sales manager) to a leader of leaders (e.g. sales director) and from a leader of leaders (e.g. sales director) to an enterprise leader (e.g. CEO).

“Each of these transitions presents different and unique challenges,” says David Wee, Director – Research and Curriculum, The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre. “For instance, the toughest career transition a new team manager has to make is giving up what have made him/her successful in the past (e.g. hard work, diligence, excellent personal performance) and embracing a new set of values and skills (managing success through others, coaching, planning).”

Diageo groups its talent into ‘Early’, ‘Middle’ and ‘Late Career’ stages. “We focus on the ‘Early Career’ group to identify and develop future leaders,” says Liang. “HR engages business leaders to secure resources, design and deliver talent development programmes, and manage calibration and the succession planning process. We focus on developing future leaders for general management, and the Commercial, Marketing, Finance, HR and Supply (functions).”

Leaders themselves are teachers and role-models and have a key role to play in internal succession planning at any organisation. “Leaders should ‘walk the talk’ and ensure that they acknowledge the importance of leadership development programmes,” says Low.

They should also invest time and support in identifying the future leaders of the business and provide clear communications and direction on what they would like to see in future company leaders, she adds, noting that this will help people in the business to understand the importance of succession planning and its benefits.

Some managers actually withhold knowledge from their people because they fear their people will overtake and replace them, says Wee. “Hence, they will teach their people enough to do their job competently but not any more than that. They are what I call ‘Talent Crushers’.”

“Their people tend to offer average performance only. They do not have clear successors because they work hard to keep the potential of their people down and the best people avoid these ‘Talent Crushers’ like the plague,” he adds.

Still, Wee believes there are many leaders who are ‘Talent Makers’ who care deeply for the success and growth of their people. ‘Talent Makers’ lead high-performing teams; they have a strong bench of potential successors and the best performers flock to their side. Notably, ‘Talent Makers’ are very successful leaders too. They are surrounded by the best people who collectively push everyone including the ‘Talent Maker’ to the next level of performance.

“Talent Makers create a pipeline of leadership talent for the organisation’s succession planning process. Perhaps even more importantly, their people emulate the behaviours of the Talent Makers thus becoming the next generation of Talent Makers in the organisation,” Wee explains.

In Diageo, leaders are asked to identify and develop their own successors, with HR support on managing the process. “Developing succession is often one of a leader’s performance objectives,” says Liang.


Empowering talent from within

Employees should be encouraged to ‘own’ their career development in the company, leading to a leadership role in the future.

“HR can encourage a robust appraisal process where their colleagues can present their career goals to their managers,” says Low. “You should also create an open environment where constant communication between employees, their managers and the HR team can take place.”

Diageo uses its ‘Partner for Growth (P4G)’ programme as a platform for performance and career conversations. From day one, when an employee joins the company, their line manager and HR introduce this tool and encourage them to have regular career conversations.

“P4G is conducted twice a year, whereby career and performance conversations are documented and submitted for second lever endorsement,” says Liang. “HR conducts P4G training for line managers and checks the quality of P4G to ensure consistency.”


Casestudy: Diageo

It is important to grow an employee’s leadership skills right from day one, shaping their leadership behaviours towards ‘Diageo Leadership Standards’, says Lilly Liang, HR Director – Greater China, Diageo. This year, the multinational alcoholic beverages company partnered with a non-governmental organisation and will launch a leadership programme with a leading university in Shanghai.

Diageo China sponsored this programme and will offer speakers for some of the sessions. Through this programme, top students at their senior years in universities are targeted and selected. “We will then focus on helping them understand what leadership is,” says Liang.

The programme is also interactive, instead of consisting of just lectures. This will help the company to evaluate and assess participants’ leadership potential. “Through such a programme, we are able to access young talent at the campus, identify future leaders, and attract them to join Diageo,” says Liang.


Assessing future leaders

Many organisations use competency models as a means of identifying future leaders. “However, in an operating environment that is fluid and marked by constant change, the expiry date of the competency model is getting shorter and shorter,” says David Wee, Director – Research and Curriculum, The Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre.

A better way is to assess future leaders based on:

1. Key skills that help a person learn, adapt and evolve. People with these abilities are more likely be humble and curious, hence, learn faster, are willing to change and be more successful in changing environment.

2. Commitment to the organisation. Understanding how committed a candidate is to the organisation is absolutely necessary. A response of “Yes” to the following questions indicates a high level of commitment

  • Is the candidate passionate about his/her work?
  • Does the candidate enjoy the people he/she works with?
  • Is the candidate learning and growing on the job?
  • Does the candidate see a future for himself/herself in the next three years

3. Aspiration. Organisations often assume everyone wants to be a future leader. Some candidates may say no and their reasons could range from lifestyle choices and having to meet personal commitments, to the fact that they are simply not interested in being considered as a future leader!



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