UK plc is worryingly short of good managers, but employers are still failing to develop a dependable source of talented people. Steve Coomber asks why the talent pipeline is so important – and how businesses can build one
The UK needs good managers – lots of them. In its 2010 publication Skills for Jobs: Today and Tomorrow, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) estimated that UK employers must find an additional 2.2 million new managers in the decade 2007 to 2017. Many of these managers will have to be developed and promoted from within organisations. Given the findings of a recent report into the state of the UK’s management talent pipeline by the Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), this presents a significant challenge for the UK’s employers.
It may be 15 years since management consultants McKinsey & Co coined the term ‘the war for talent’, but the talent issue remains just as critical for organisations today. Leadership and management seem tougher than ever in the modern business environment. Keeping on top of industry changing innovation; understanding technological advances that change the way people work; being able to motivate increasingly diverse, often geographically remote teams; the intense pressure on managers to do more with less – these are just some of the challenges today’s managers face.
Organisations should create a formal talent plan, assessing capabilities and career ambitions against organisational needs and goals.
Making a difference
Good managers make a huge difference. Research demonstrates a clear link between the best management practices and organisational performance. Conversely, the absence of a competent management cadre can be highly damaging to an organisation’s performance and future prospects. The ILM report, The leadership and management talent pipeline, confirms this situation. It reveals that a worryingly high proportion of respondents – 93% – are concerned that low levels of management skills in their organisation directly affect the achievement of the business goals.
The lack of internal staff capability is a major barrier to an effective talent pipeline. That’s reflected by the fact that only 55% of managerial vacancies are filled internally, with just half at a senior level.
But perhaps those statistics are less surprising considering the same research reveals that 43% of organisations have no plans in place to define, track and develop the skills and knowledge required to ensure a future supply of leaders and managers. Or that fewer than one in five employers expect managers to have received training prior to promotion.
There are strong arguments for developing managers internally. They understand the business and the company culture. They hit the ground running, and can make an immediate impact. It is cost effective.
A positive impression
Not only that, but the way an organisation sources its managers sends an important signal to the external world. “One advantage of recruiting from an internal talent pool is that it sends out a positive message in terms of career progression within that organisation,” says Dona Roche-Tarry, a managing partner of European Board Services at CTPartners, a global search firm. Previously, Roche-Tarry was an HR director in the commercial arm of Barclays Bank. “This in turn feeds back positively into the talent programme and it can help with recruitment, retention and motivation if that organisation is prepared to invest in the long-term career development of its people and to support them in getting ahead in the business.”
So how can organisations rectify the situation? The ILM report suggests a number of areas the HR team should focus on.
Organisations should create a formal talent plan, assessing capabilities and career ambitions against organisational needs and goals. This should include provision for development before individuals manage others for the first time. This point is particularly significant, as it sets learning and development expectations for the future, and acknowledges the importance of developing a professional cohort of managers. Managing others is a skill; employees should not just be left to get on with it, without appropriate training and support.
A number of skills areas, in particular, are essential for leading and managing at any level. Communication, people management, and planning and work organisation skills are the fundamental building blocks of managerial best practice. Smart organisations will concentrate on developing these skills first and foremost. Then, as employees move along the talent pipeline, other skills, such as financial acumen and strategic thinking, become more important.
The soft stuff
Soft skills are another must-have in the manager’s toolkit. The ILM research identifies factors such as emotional intelligence, creativity and the ability to motivate and inspire as both lacking in managers and crucial for performance and growth. Managers make things happen and get things done in organisations. To do this they need social capital, and the ability to understand the networks of influence and communities of practice within their organisations, so they can reach key decision makers. Much of this is to do with soft skills – and soft skills can and should be coached.
Filling the talent pipeline and keeping it flowing is not an easy challenge. As Roche-Tarry notes, it’s impossible to predict exactly how and when resourcing requirements might open up. People and teams can leave suddenly, business circumstances may change unexpectedly, and this can throw even the most carefully crafted plans into temporary disarray.
But given the demand for talent outlined in the ILM report, and in the knowledge that better managers make better management practices, which make better businesses, doing nothing is not an option. At the very least, organisations should regularly audit and benchmark their talent management practices, checking that they are fit for purpose. And if, as with 43% of organisations, there simply isn’t a talent plan, now is the time to start changing that.