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August 24, 2022

How to develop leaders within UK organisations

Internal leadership development is beneficial to organisations and employees alike, but many employers still rely on external candidates to fill leadership positions. Learn how to develop leaders effectively by implementing meaningful development processes and programmes.

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Where will your organisation find its next great leader? It could be that hardworking junior or mid-level employee sharing all the great ideas in your next meeting or volunteering to help with that project no one seems to want. But research shows that UK companies don’t tend to look inward for their leaders.

According to Ceridian’s 2022 Executive Survey, 77% of UK respondents said their organisations often or always hire external candidates for leadership roles. This is higher than the 74% globally who reported doing so.

But this practice doesn’t appear to be in the best interest of businesses or their leaders. Among our UK survey respondents, nearly half (45%) said key leadership roles are vacant four months or longer. And 68% revealed that they were very or extremely concerned their organisation wouldn’t be able to fill a key leadership role once it’s vacant.

Let’s explore some tips for how to develop leaders within your organisation so they’re ready to take on leadership roles when those vacancies do occur.

Understand career aspirations

Not everyone aspires to leadership, either as an ultimate career goal or within your organisation. Some employees may prefer to be individual contributors or subject matter experts. Career paths are highly individual and should be treated as such to ensure employee satisfaction and retention.

To develop leaders, first you must identify them. Institute regular career conversations between employees and managers to hone the organisational understanding of employees’ career aspirations. These conversations are a great opportunity to identify leadership potential as well – looking at the skills, behaviors, and traits an employee possesses that might set them up well for leadership roles.

Technology can also be useful in this process. And yet only 49% of 2022 Executive Survey respondents in the UK said that their organisations are using technology to map talent/identify leaders. This lack of technology adoption makes it more difficult for organisations to find, evaluate, and track potential leaders.

Build succession plans

If one of your company’s leaders announced tomorrow that they were departing, do you know who would step up to fill their role? Succession planning can help you confidently answer that question.  

Succession planning is the process of identifying the critical positions within your organisation and developing action plans for individuals to assume those positions. It is essential for leadership development and business continuity.

But only 60% of our UK Executive Survey respondents reported using succession planning for senior leadership roles. That usage drops to 50% for people leaders.

To maximise effectiveness, succession planning should be broad. Rather than opting for one successor per role, build talent pools for succession. This helps ensure that multiple candidates are ready to step into a vacant leadership role, which can prove helpful if a potential successor leaves the organisation or decides to turn down a given leadership role.

Less than half (49%) of our Executive Survey respondents in the UK said they use technology to map talent/identify leaders. But using succession planning software can help support meaningful succession planning efforts. It allows organisations to take a data-driven approach to proactively identify and developi future leaders.

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Provide learning opportunities

When you think about how to develop leaders, providing learning opportunities may be the first action item that comes to mind. But our 2022 Executive Survey findings show that adoption of management training programmes is lacking.

When we asked how their organisations are supporting middle managers so they can be successful in their roles, only 45% of UK respondents said they offer management training programmes. This is lower than the 51% globally who offer such programmes.

Management training is essential for leadership success. But to be truly effective, such development opportunities must be purposeful in their design. Organisations can’t rely on one-off training sessions to develop high-performing managers. It should be an ongoing process that supports and develops emerging and experienced leaders alike.

This training should also recognise the changing expectations surrounding leadership today. Management training once was likely to focus on business acumen and job-specific abilities. Now, such programmes would be lacking without interpersonal skill-development and other soft skills to ensure well-rounded leaders.

Leadership training can also manifest in more hands-on forms. Stretch assignments are unique development opportunities that allow future leaders to be challenged in new ways through on-the-job learning. Examples of stretch assignments could be managing an intern or participating in the organisation’s annual strategic planning process. These real-world learning opportunities shouldn’t be overlooked when building leadership development programmes.

While external hires can make strategic sense for some roles, companies can benefit from increasing their investment internally to fill leadership roles quicker, minimise disruption, and provide employees with advancement opportunities.

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