One of the biggest concerns for any HR team is succession planning, particularly in the current climate where professionals are expected to change jobs more frequently than any of their predecessors.  So how can HR professionals effectively identify and retain leaders in an increasingly VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Chaotic and Ambiguous) environment?

Benefits of fresh thinking

Just a few short years ago HR teams would be able to identify future leaders largely by looking for candidates who could show extensive experience in their sector. However, times have changed and businesses are now appreciating the value that different thinking and external skills can bring. You only have to look at the impact that former analyst and private equity professional, Daniel Schwartz has had in his role as CEO at Burger King, for example, to appreciate the difference this can make. In the 13 months since his arrival Schwartz has surrounded himself with an equally fresh management team – including a 28 year old financial officer – and has set about changing the ailing fast food retailer’s fortunes.  While HR teams obviously shouldn’t look to exclusively hire ‘new’ talent to run their business, this does highlight the value of oblique thinking, as this was Schwartz’s first role in the fast-food industry, having previously worked for 3G Capital and Credit Suisse.  In fact, it’s extremely rare to find a CEO in charge of a large organisation at such a young age. Indeed, only Mark Zuckerberg is younger in the Fortune 1000.  

Generalist over specialist

This example also highlights the recent rise of the generalist over the specialist.  Schwartz has developed a holistic skill set gained in the finance and private equity sectors and this has served him well as leader of Burger King. He even spent his first couple of months in its restaurants finding out how they operated and where they could improve, reflecting his ability and desire to learn about the entire business. This openness is perhaps the sort of soft skill that HR teams should now look to identify over the previous requirements of extensive experience and pre-existing knowledge of the sector.

Changing requirements

It’s perhaps fair to say, then, that in an ever-shifting business environment HR teams should focus on pinpointing the softer abilities in individuals that could develop them into a successful leader. In fact, it may even be a waste of resources trying to exactly identify concrete technical skills in a world when change happens so quickly. Organisations will obviously still need to recruit technically gifted professionals, however, developing a combination of both technical and softer skills – such as adaptability, flexibility and openness to change – is becoming increasingly important and can also aid in highlighting whether the individual has the capability to develop new technical skills in the future.

Invisible leadership

Even the perception of what a leader should be has shifted. Studies at Nyenrode Business School in The Netherlands, for example,  suggest that leaders should now be ‘invisible’ rather than ‘heroic’ or, in effect, the ‘anti – Steve Jobs’. This is for a variety of reasons; however it’s mostly because it’s not realistic to expect the fortunes of a large organisation to rest on one person, particularly in a time of almost constant change. An effective leader must now be able to utilise the skills around them for the benefit of their business, rather than expecting to come up with all the answers for themselves. With the growth of so many new areas and disciplines such as social media and analytics, business leaders simply have to call on the strengths of their colleagues to be truly effective. By sharing the workload, companies can also avoid any pitfalls that could come with the departure of the person at the top. For example, when Steve Jobs died the Apple share price fell because stakeholders saw him as the pivotal factor behind the company’s success. By avoiding this and sharing the responsibilities and pressure of the role, HR teams can supply the context for a much more effective leadership style.

So with these changes in mind, how can HR professionals identify the next generation of leaders? They’ll need to stop relying on the pipelines they would have traditionally recruited top level staff through. Businesses need innovation and fresh ideas, and while there may be plenty of talented professionals existing within the relevant sector, an organisation won’t benefit from the new approach that comes with recruiting talent from outside their discipline. Develop a partnership with an expert provider that really understands the overall talent arena and you could potentially recruit the next Daniel Schwartz to lead your business in the future.

How do you think businesses can identify the next generation of leaders? Let us know by commenting below