Engaging the next generation of leaders

by 20 Dec 2011

In a volatile and unpredictable business environment, maintaining an engaged and motivated workforce is critical, not just for success in the short term, but to secure the future as well.  

In the changing world of work, the one constant is the need for an exceptional workforce, and at the heart of that is the need for exceptional leadership. Mercer What's Working survey of 1,000 Australian employees, conducted in mid 2011, found that the national workforce is motivated more by strong, quality leadership than employee bonuses or benefits. 

As organisations fight for leadership talent, are they doing enough to nurture their current workforce for senior management roles? Worryingly, the survey found Australian employers are facing a future leadership crisis, with only 43.9% of middle managers (those managing between 1-10 employees) feeling satisfied with career opportunities at their current organisation.  

In addition nearly half (49.5%) of senior managers (those managing 11-50 employees) were found to be seriously considering leaving their organisation. This crisis is amplified by four in ten Australian workers in non-management roles seriously considering leaving their employer.  

The need to retain existing employees will only increase over the next 12 months as employers look at opportunities to recover from economic uncertainty. This challenge is even more of a struggle as remuneration budgets are likely to remain constrained and employees look to new employment opportunities in 2012.

Mercer's research showed lack of training opportunities and career development support were two key factors in leadership failure among Australian organisations. Only 52% of middle managers felt they were satisfied with their organisation's training and learning opportunities, compared to 68% of senior managers.

In addition, only 55% of middle managers believe there are opportunities for continuous learning within their organisation, compared to 69% of senior managers. Adding to this disengagement crisis, only 42.5% of middle managers think their organisation does a good job of retaining its most talented people. This is no surprise if employers are failing to provide adequate training and career support for the entire workforce, rather than just those individuals holding top positions.

Without continuous training and mentoring support, organisations are going to face lacklustre talent pools: the next generation of leaders will be ill-prepared for promotion and increased management responsibility, and lack the motivation to remain engaged and productive.

Finding talent - succession planning and the role of the CEO

Employers grappling with the challenge of workforce planning are potentially overlooking two very important groups of employees who have the ability and desire to reach leadership levels, but lack the support they need.

Mercer's research shows that a disproportionate number of women drop out of the workforce at mid management levels, failing to progress to senior ranks. Despite all the talk about raising the number of women in leadership positions, only 1 in 4 (26%) Australian and New Zealand companies have a clearly defined strategy to attract and retain women long enough to reach senior leadership positions. 

Employers need to build greater flexibility in the workforce to help keep women engaged and provide the opportunity to build their career without sacrificing their personal lives. Currently, only 30% of middle managers are satisfied with the company's employee assistance plan and only 12% are satisfied with childcare support from their organisation. 

Another untapped talent pool is the older worker. More than 1 in 5 workers will be aged 55 or over by 2012 and the biggest increase in labour force will be amongst older females (60+). However, our research has found older workers are feeling left out of career development opportunities, with only 40% of 55-64 year olds feeling they have sufficient opportunities for growth and development. 

In addition to opening up greater career opportunities for Australia's older and experienced workers, employers need to think ahead and enforce adequate succession planning as baby boomers begin to edge towards retirement age in the coming years. Organisations need to look at where their older employees are best placed within the organisation, and where their skills and experience can be shared and optimised to prepare the next generation of leaders. 

To help support these succession plans, CEOs need to become increasingly involved in leadership development and become champions for change. Without this executive involvement, employers will be unable to deliver on workforce planning and risk losing the bench strength that will help them remain competitive in an uncertain market.

About the author

 Marianne Roux, is talent segment leader for Mercer's Human Capital business in Australia


  • by Gregory Evans 20/12/2011 4:26:22 PM

    You’ve got to wonder how HR can be taken seriously in business, if the quality of analysis of this article is in anyway typical.

    Quoting data without a trend comparison is a fundamental flaw that occurs routinely through the piece. If we assume that a crisis (a word used three times) is an unstable and dangerous situation, Mercer needs to show that the situation is not the norm. But they don’t.

    Could it be 40-50% dissatisfaction with career opportunities and/or retention strategies within current organisation is a norm in Australian organisations, rather than an acute crisis?

    Could it be that the four in ten Australian workers or middle managers intending to move jobs (in the next 12 months or next 12 years?) is also a steady state? Or perhaps two of the four are retiring? Or are they symptoms of the muc- vaunted move to multiple careers, a popular topic in the management press some years ago.

    Could it be that career opportunities as leaders are limited, given that the number of leadership positions diminish in proportion to seniority?

    The article stretches credibility to breaking point when it concludes that “employers are facing a leadership crisis” or that they face a “disengagement crisis”, because around 40% of middle managers are considering moving jobs, and 52% are satisfied with training and learning opportunities. What’s the trend from previous years?

    C’mon Mercer. You can do better than this.

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