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Only a quarter of firms prepared if CEO steps down tomorrow

Rachel Davis, Co-Managing Director - Armstrong Craven

New research reveals that few organisations are fully prepared should their CEO step down tomorrow.  Just 24% of HR and talent teams completely agree that they have a succession plan in place should this occur. In fact, nearly half of respondents have little confidence in their succession plans – 42% don’t agree that they have succession plans in place should their CEO step down tomorrow.

The research* sheds light on leadership risk at UK companies and their widespread issues with succession planning and senior talent attraction. Over 200 HR professionals responded to the survey; of these 173 were senior leaders in organisations.

Succession planning problems are compounded by the competitive hiring environment. More than 4 in 10 (43%) HR and talent teams say they struggle to identify future leaders with the right skill sets and behaviours.

The survey also reveals that organisations now require different behaviours from their leaders.
The top three leadership behaviours sought by HR and talent leaders are:

1) the ability to empower and champion teams (49%)

2) the ability to manage and drive change (48%) and

3) strong emotional quotient (EQ)/emotional intelligence (46%).

Rachel Davis, Co-Managing Director at Armstrong Craven, said:

“The pandemic has had a significant impact on the qualities organisations are seeking from leaders. Traditional leadership behaviours – agile mindset, driving change, managing crises – are still important but leaders also now require new traits. These new qualities – high emotional intelligence, the ability to lead hybrid teams, curiosity and empowerment – enable more enlightened businesses, where trust is at the centre.”

Although HR and talent teams understand the ideal behaviours and skill sets needed for their organisation, a quarter (23%) say they don’t know where to look, internally or externally, to find future leaders.

Indeed, assessing leadership risk and benchmarking is also an issue in succession planning. Nearly a third (29%) of respondents say they have no mechanism to accurately assess this risk in their organisation, while 32% lack data – internal or external – meaning they are not able to understand organisational potential nor benchmark and gain insight about the wider talent market.

Peter Howarth, Co-Managing Director at Armstrong Craven, said:  “It’s of deep concern that so many HR and talent leaders responding to the survey aren’t fully prepared with a succession plan should their CEO step down tomorrow. It’s not surprising however. In a highly competitive market, businesses are overwhelmed with immediate pains of hiring software developers, retail staff or for the shop floor, for instance. Leadership succession planning isn’t currently ‘on fire’ which means it can sit on the back burner – until fingers get badly burned.

“We applaud those who are prepared for different eventualities. The first priority for the others is to understand their leadership risks. We see that many organisations are able to identify the types of leaders they want in their business, which is positive, so leadership succession planning – including talent mapping and talent pipelining – supports business strategy. By understanding internal gaps and balancing these with knowledge of external talent, it’s possible to build pipelines of engaged talent to help secure the organisation’s future.”

*Armstrong Craven surveyed 213 HR and talent professionals – including 173 senior leaders – during April and May 2022.

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