'Next generation' | Can Deloitte's exec team overhaul help HR ace succession planning?

Can Deloitte's exec team overhaul help HR ace succession planning?

Deloitte has switched up its UK executive team, ushering out half of the current leaders to make way for new blood, in a bid to create the “next generation of leaders”.

The Big Four firm has announced a number of new appointments to its UK Executive, whose skills and experience the company says “will help the firm continue to deliver growth while investing for the future through skills, innovation and digital adoption.”

Eight of the current team will make way for six new partners, who will be part of a downsized executive list of 14.

Appointed by Senior Partner and CEO Richard Houston, who was recently re-elected in his role until 2027, each member of the UK Executive takes responsibility for leading an area of the firm’s operations and strategy, alongside client delivery and people development.

Cindy Chan, Rob Cullen, Philip Mills, Charindra Pathiwille, Nick Turner and Duncan Farrow-Smith will take up Managing Partner roles from February 2023, replacing the likes of Richard Bell, Pauline Biddle, Stephen Griggs, Anne-Marie Malley and Andy Morris, who will remain with the company in other roles which have not yet been disclosed.

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Houston said: “I would like to congratulate Cindy, Rob, Philip, Charindra, Nick and Duncan on their new roles. I and the rest of the Executive look forward to working with this next generation of leaders so that we can continue the great progress we have already made in embedding purpose in all our decision-making and succeed as a business in the years ahead.

“As reflected in our recent financial results announcement, our firm is in a strong position and this is down to the excellent leadership and focus of our previous Executive team. I would like to thank Richard Bell, Pauline Biddle, Stephen Griggs, Anne-Marie Malley and Andy Morris for all their support and hard work in helping us achieve so much over the past few years.”

Deloitte’s new UK Executive will consist of 14 partners from across the firm and will comprise 29% women and 14% from an ethnic minority background.

The news comes after Deloitte Global recently selected Joe Ucuzoglu as the next CEO of Deloitte Global, succeeding Punit Renjen, who is retiring on 31 December 2022.

Succession planning challenges

Houston’s comments on Deloitte’s exec shake-up clearly indicate that the firm has been giving serious thought to the company’s future, with the new crop essentially now having a five-year trial period to show their leadership potential before the end of Houston’s tenure in 2027.

The announcement is also a time to look back at recent statistics on the perilous state of succession planning that many UK HR teams find themselves in.

Talent insight experts Armstrong Craven recently found that the vast majority of HR leaders are facing challenges in succession planning. According to the data, a whopping 93% of HR and talent teams are experiencing issues when it comes to succession planning – something which could have multiple implications for businesses.

The data, which quizzed over 200 HR and talent professionals (of which 173 were senior leaders) found that just 24% of HR professionals described their organisation as ‘very proficient’ when it came to succession planning, while 95% said that their plans struggled to deliver on some key areas.

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Having trouble understanding the key skills needed from future leaders was cited by 27% of HR professionals, while succession planning goals and criteria not aligning between the Board and executive teams was cited by 22%.

Moreover, HR and talent leaders struggling to get budget to turn succession plans into actions was cited by 36%, while 39% said that succession plans aren’t creating sufficient or adequate talent pipelines to respond to sudden changes in business needs.

What the above statistics demonstrate is that, despite its importance, HR and talent professionals are struggling to deliver on key areas of succession planning. Getting this right is key to ensure that the business has the right talent in place to respond to business changes – something that if not properly thought out can have a knock-on effect on commercial success.

The importance of ‘robust succession planning’

One expert has said that the need for a good succession planning strategy has become critical in recent years. “The need for robust succession planning to build resilience against future shocks has become much more pressing since the pandemic,” explained Rachel Davis, Co-Managing Director at Armstrong Craven.

To add to Davis’s comments, previous articles have suggested why succession planning is crucial for many reasons. As was identified in a Quantum Workplace blog post, good succession planning can identify key members of staff who have the ability to perform well in top roles, which can help with future-proofing the business. It can also help to mitigate risk if a leader decides to quit or is impacted by a severe illness to ensure that the business isn’t left vulnerable and without a good leader to drive the organisation forwards.

The blog post also identified that succession planning can help to reduce recruitment-related costs. If roles are left unfilled for a while, companies may make hasty and costly hiring decisions. Additionally, in the instance that a successor comes from within the company, companies won’t need to recruit externally which can reduce costs even more.

However, as the data has shown, being able to do this successfully hasn’t been plain-sailing for HR and talent professionals. Davis continued: “…Businesses are coming up against a myriad of issues and challenges around succession planning, such as executive pay and remuneration, ESG, investor activism, embracing new leadership styles and hybrid working practices in addition to traditional attraction and retention challenges. Organisations need to ensure they are not lax in planning – and this includes ensuring they have leadership team support,” he added.

HR tips for better succession planning

A 2021 Robert Half blog post outlined some of the crucial steps when it comes to succession planning. In some instances, companies may know in advance that a high-level staffer is going to leave, for example if the individual is soon to retire. But, other times, employers will be caught off-guard and the staff member will be exiting in pursuit of a new role elsewhere. The blog post said that employers should consider how the person in question leaving would impact operations and the impact that their role has on the day-to-day running of the company or department.

Additionally, HR and talent professionals need to consider the team members that have the potential to step up into these positions. It might be tempting to look at who is naturally next in line in the organisational chart, though the blog post said to look for colleagues who have the needed skills to thrive in these higher up positions. Letting prospective candidates know that they are being considered for these positions – but also letting them know that there are no guarantees – is also key.

Of course, there are many different steps that can contribute to a good succession planning strategy and the above are just some examples of what this could look like in practice. With the data pointing towards some of the issues experienced by HR when it comes to succession planning, thinking about possible solutions to this, such as improving communication between teams and with the Board, could be key.

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