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We’re heading to the end of the year – a time to take stock and think about what next year holds.

Next year will undoubtedly involve a continued focus on hybrid working and managing the ongoing impacts of Covid. Beyond this, organisations want to also look ahead to longer-term strategic planning after nearly two years of dealing with the here and now.

A recent study* of 1,000 senior professionals in the UK found that eight in ten (82%) have concerns about the green credentials of future business leaders. This is a top-ranking concern for today’s leaders, along with the digital prowess (82%) of the next generation of leadership.  No surprise on digital, but the increased focus on sucstainability is a clear trend that extends far beyond the statements and commitments made at COP26.  In 2022 we can expect continued and rising focus on this agenda throughout the working world – and increasing attention from progressive HR directors.

Sustainability and digital are amongst the fastest moving factors impacting organisations with pressure from policymakers, employees and customers to drive transformation in both areas. The UK is increasingly heading towards becoming a circular economy, where net zero emissions will be an expectation of all organisations. At the same time, technology is rapidly advancing and constantly affecting how people live and work.

This begins with talent and skills and is driving a growing expectation for future leaders across organisations – not just those working in roles such as IT, digital communications and ESG – to have the knowledge and abilities to address climate change and drive digital transformation.

It’s this growing responsibility and expectation that’s causing concern for today’s leaders and prioritising the need for HR to help move sustainability and digital up boardroom agendas in 2022.

Organisations are starting to take some action to address challenges. The research found that a third (33%) of senior professionals are working closely with education providers to develop leadership talent. A similar number (32%) are focused on partnering with the Government to address leadership skills shortages, while 30% are taking a company or industry-led approach to improving skills through business and sector-specific leadership development programmes.

This level of action though does not necessarily tally with the concerns of today’s leaders. Eight in 10 harbour doubts about the abilities of tomorrow’s business leaders to build green organisations and drive digital transformation. However, only around a third of senior professionals are acting on these concerns.

The challenge for HR in 2022 is to work with their boards to accelerate the actions being taken to address leadership skills shortages. These teams must act faster, as the rate of sustainable and digital change will only get quicker and more complex. For those organisations that do prioritise this, they’ll grasp the opportunity to evolve leadership in sync with the factors that are having greater influence on the behaviours and attitudes of their audiences, which will ultimately give them a competitive advantage with employees, customers and wider stakeholders.

*About the study: A survey was completed by OnePoll on behalf of NSCG in October 2021. This sampled 1,000 senior level (Director and above) professionals working in the UK.

    Graham Atkins is Managing Partner at leadership consulting & talent solutions provider New Street Consulting Group (NSCG). He has over two decades of leadership experience and has worked with organisations as a strategic advisor on organisational strategy, enterprise leadership, culture and change. Graham often works with organisations to develop strategies and programmes that improve overall performance and reduce costs.

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