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The regeneration game

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The regeneration game

Think succession and you instantly associate it with maintaining the quality of future senior leadership, ensuring it is ready to operate in a volatile and difficult marketplace. But now the onus is on a growing need to focus on a wide range of critical, non-leadership and specialist roles. There is a real and understandable fear of losing valuable knowledge and intellectual capital and a necessity for organisations to change their approach.

Results from the Top Employers HR Best Practices survey, which looks at certified UK Top Employers from 2015 and 2016, showed that over the last year, more companies have defined a career and succession management framework or model, and just over three quarters consistently apply these processes for different job roles and levels. There is still focus on having a succession plan for CEO roles, found in 82 percent of certified companies, but the main emphasis for succession planning is beginning to move towards more critical management roles and those requiring specialist knowledge. With a fast-changing and more uncertain business climate requiring a talent pipeline with experience and capability, almost all researched companies have succession plans for critical management level positions. So the priorities are not only about ensuring continuity of senior roles, but the growing need for specialist skills and flexible mindsets. There is a business-wide impact, of course. HR and management teams need to pinpoint individual and organisational issues in maelstrom of multi-generational workforces, flexible working, mobility, skill shortages, career paths, self-help and effective learning are all potentially in the hot seat – and work them through their succession and planning processes. Underpinning this broader focus for career and succession management is a shift in ownership. Previously, the practice was often solely part of HR’s remit, but is now owned more by the wider business, whose concerns extend beyond strengthening the leadership pipeline to helping build retention, development and engagement. These latter priorities are particularly important for the younger, emerging workforce, that often has different expectations and preferences for their careers.

The survey data shows that almost all companies researched nominate or approve individuals for career moves, encourage employee mobility (97 percent) and hold line managers to account for developing succession pipelines (93 percent). Executive managers also participate in succession management meetings, which is essential in providing legitimacy to the process and helping employees feel that decisions made will be implemented. As a result, the planning for career and succession management has evolved from being an annual event coordinated by HR, to an ongoing process of development, coaching and mentoring that is delivered by managers as part of their day-to-day remit. Some of these trends reflect the way in which approaches to work – and employee aspirations – are changing and being redefined. With more flexible working schedules, retirees continuing in the workplace and a growing use of contingent and contract workers, it is noticeable that attitudes towards traditional career paths have changed. Younger, millennial entrants to the workforce have a strong focus on mission and purpose, and their career preferences favour skill and capability development over vertical career paths and linear promotion. This is leading to a more flexible approach to job design and career development opportunities. The latter now facilitate mobility – across disciplines and borders – through rotational assignments, and a more lateral or cross-functional approach to career moves and, very notably too, individual workers are being increasingly encouraged to take responsibility for their own development.

Horizontal career paths, in which an individual employee focuses more on their self-development and knowledge enhancement by undertaking projects and secondments, are becoming much more popular within organisations. The more traditional, job title oriented vertical career paths remain fractionally more popular. Two thirds of researched companies now offer a more cross functional approach, the benefits of which are underlined by Rory McLellan, People Director for UK & Ireland at major brewing company AB InBev, a certified Top Employer, who told us, “I’m a great example of AB InBev’s flexible working practices. I started my career here as a forecasting analyst in 2003, before moving into finance and most recently, HR. Having the opportunity to work in different roles in a variety of functions has meant I not only have a much more rounded view of the business, but I’ve continued to learn new skills over the last 13 years. It’s incredibly important for us to enable and inspire our people to have enduring careers here, and to give them as many opportunities as we can, across functional, as well as geographic, divisions.” The clear priority for development is to have defined career paths – only around one in seven of the companies researched have no pre-defined paths. To help support employees in achieving their career aims all companies use training, and now coaching, with an increasing number also offering mentoring. The fastest growing interventions include secondments, special assignments and International mobility.

Managers are vital when it comes to supporting career aims, of course, but employees should be encouraged to embrace a broader approach to career development, whilst supporting them with a relevant personal development plan. To help identify those who have the highest potential, the majority of organisations use performance evaluation ratings, although many are now using a self-assessment and performance behaviours matrix. Furthermore, managers should facilitate greater mobility. Traditional vertical career paths require managers to identify and work with their high potential employees, ensuring they are ready for promotion at the right time. Facilitating more lateral and horizontal career routes will need a different mindset, one that embraces flexibility and adopts a broader view of company needs. Most organisations report skill shortages and are also prioritising the retention and development of employees. Filling key positions by external hiring can be costly and time-consuming, and risks alienating existing staff who do not feel that they are given a chance to progress. This is a prime reason why so many organisations now use career and succession management to help fill critical specialist and expert roles.

For internal mobility to succeed in workforce development, there can be no barriers to employees moving around, so this requires transparency about the wider opportunities available and the skills needed to undertake them. Managers who are used to keeping their best people for their own teams need to be encouraged to recommend them to other parts of the organisation for development. In other words, they need to stop hoarding talent and start producing it. Many employers do expect their managers to actively promote the career development of their team members. For employees, it is essential that they have as much information as possible about all roles within the organisation and the skills needed. The vast majority (97 percent) provide some freely accessible information on career paths and career development to employees.

Competency frameworks play an integral role in helping employees better understand the different roles available within an organisation, and particularly different competencies, capabilities and requirements. Alongside free access to this information, employees and their managers also need some form of training to help understand and maximise opportunities. With individual employees needing to take an active and decisive role in their own development, it is also important that they receive as much support as possible. This means encouraging taking initiative in their careers, maintaining their knowledge, and staying healthy and motivated. The way that companies are approaching this is demonstrated by the pharmaceutical business Roche Products, another certified Top Employer. Its HR Director, Christiane Schumacher, told us, “We believe that Career Development is a partnership, employees own their development and career, actively managing their career to pursue personal goals and priorities, seeking candid feedback on their performance, creating and implementing an annual individual development plan. Managers play a key role in discovering and developing the potential in people… taking a genuine interest in people and investing time to know what they want to do, conducting career discussions supported by regular coaching, feedback and encouragement and identifying opportunities for development, that include a range of different formats. Roche provides tools, resources and a commitment to continue to develop a culture that enables everyone to flourish.”

To meet the growing challenges to long-term staffing, capabilities and knowledge, it is crucial for companies to retain and develop their key talent. Achieving this will require a more flexible and agile approach to career and succession management, and leaders and managers must take ownership of the process, whilst promoting and supporting mobility and self-directed learning, and offering guidance. Information on competencies and opportunities should be transparent and freely available, and career paths, however they are structured, have to be clearly defined. The UK data in this article comes from research into 70 companies certified as Top Employers UK for 2016, and 72 companies certified as Top Employers UK in 2015. The insights are supported by the findings of the Top Employers HR Best Practices survey which assesses global organisations’ HR environment in the areas of strategy, policy implementation, monitoring and communication of employee conditions and development.

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