Demystifying the Leadership Talent Gap in Asia Pacific

February 20, 20178:38 am
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With organisations in Asia grappling with change and challenged by multigenerational workforce management being one of the critical areas for HR professionals, combined with ongoing talent shortage for skilled professionals, it becomes increasingly important for organisations of today, to focus on development of talent succession pipeline and initiate best practices for high-performance leadership.

Andrew Calvert, Managing Director, Asia Pacific, AchieveForum details on key areas that require attention to bridge the leadership talent gap in Asia Pacific and globally as well. Read on…

1. Is multigenerational workforce management, posing challenges to talent attraction and development of high-performance leadership at the top?

According to Randstad’s Sourceright 2015 Talent Trends Report, 69 percent of HR leaders say that managing a multi-generational workforce is one of their biggest challenges. With the next generation of workers (i.e. Generation Zs) set to enter the workforce in full force over the next five years, this challenge is slated to intensify.

Interestingly enough, however, a survey we conducted titled: The Generational Divide found limited dissimilarities to age differences amongst respondents. The findings show employees across age groups rating job attributes very similarly, with most participants ranking respect and financial stability amongst what they valued most in the workplace.

Andrew Calvert, Managing Director, AchieveForum

Andrew Calvert, Managing Director, AchieveForum

In other words, there is little disparity in how different generations want to be treated in the workplace, and the ‘great generational divide’ is often more amplified than it actually is. Everybody is different, but we all share universal, fundamental needs. In the same way, everybody shares the same needs for relatedness, competency and autonomy according to the self-determination theory – it’s the manifestation of those needs that change from person to person, culture to culture and generation to generation.

There is a natural human tendency to categorize employees and treat them based on groups they are assumed to represent – according to race, gender or religion – but not only are there negative consequences of projecting age stereotypes, the reality is much more nuanced.

People should be treated as individuals regardless of their age. Instead of treating employees according to generational silos, the focus should be on promoting effective inter-generational collaboration.

Three key organizational best practices to enforce this include:

  • Challenging stereotypes: A powerful way to demonstrate respect for others is to move past labels and treat people as individuals with unique experiences, preferences, and interests.
  • Finding common ground: While each of us is unique, we all share more than you might think. Invest time discovering what you share – needs, goals, interests and opinions with individuals representing other generations.
  • Mixing it up: Most of us prefer to spend time with people similar to us, including those of similar age. Working across generations helps realize the tremendous value of diverse perspectives, which often spark creativity and innovation.

At the end of the day, we can overcome many differences, including age, if we acknowledge that everyone is deserving of respect even if they do things differently from how we might do them.

2. How important is succession planning in an organisation to train talent to assume leadership positions in their career?

Succession planning is critical. A study by RHR International, a global firm of management psychologists and consultants, revealed that more than 50 percent of surveyed companies anticipated a loss of over 50 percent of their current senior leaders within the next five years.

With the Asia population ageing faster than anywhere else around the globe, taking a forward-looking outlook that prepares the company for either an unexpected or planned departure of a leader has never been more important. Some CEOs find the subject of succession planning awkward and consider it as an indicator of incompetency or organisational death – but, given that there’s so much to evaluate, from defining key qualifications for a successor to short listing the list of ‘high-potentials’, it’s never too early to start.

Having a robust succession planning program also means greater emphasis on fostering the next generation of leaders through mentoring, training and stretched assignments because of the commitment to start first by identifying leaders from within.

Developing leaders internally takes time and effort, but a major advantage is that employees are motivated to stay and do well because there are clear growth opportunities, with the greatest promise of taking the helm.

3. How can organisations work towards building a talent succession pipeline?

According to one of our recent Point of View papers, organizations can first start by:

  • Hardwiring their leadership strategy and pipeline to strategic and organizational priorities in the succession plan, creating a clear line of sight from strategy to the leader’s work.
  • Providing each person in the succession planning team with opportunities to offer insights and contribute feedback about the implementation process.
  • Defining the capabilities high-potentials must have in order for them to be put up for consideration – from possessing in-depth understanding of the complexities of the business environment, to being able to represent the organization to a wide variety of stakeholders (e.g. Board, investment community, and the media)
  • Providing resources and financial support that are visible to leaders as well as championing talent management processes. Without this kind of intensive support and development, the risk of failure and attrition as high-potentials move to senior levels is very high.

These however, are the guiding principles, but the actual succession plan should be periodically updated as the business evolves.

4. Share insights on the talent development landscape in Asia Pacific and how it is different from other regions.

The global talent shortage is at its highest in seven years, but is remarkably evident in the Asia Pacific region. Japan records the largest talent shortage at 83 percent, Hong Kong at 65 percent and India in third place with 58 percent. The universally-relevant solutions involve growing talent internally, hiring promising talent early and investing in their training and retention.

Organizations in the Asia Pacific region also continue to see a relatively small percentage of women in senior leadership positions. As more is being discussed around what companies are doing to build gender balance and how these approaches deliver results, inclusion and diversity will increasingly become a primary strategic imperative.

The conversation around talent development is also likely to shift from just gender equity to a broader focus on diversity and inclusion competencies around problem solving, decision making, how employees can collaborate and seek different perspectives – in essence, the benefits of having a more diverse workforce.

See: Revealing Insights into the Similarities and Differences in Leadership across 9 Markets in Asia

5. What are the key tactics and strategies for sourcing and maintaining the quality of talent in an organisation?

Be it sourcing, developing or maintaining talent, the most successful organisations align their strategies for leadership talent pipeline along with their long-term business strategy, and ensure that the former accounts for both the organization’s environment and leadership capabilities it possesses. By doing so, organizations ensure that they are agile when conditions require strategic shifts.

Apart from these strategic imperatives, organizations need to tier their leadership pipeline and development efforts into first-line, mid-level and high-potential/senior leaders because leaders at each level have unique needs.

Knowing that the work of leaders differ in breadth and intensity by level, AchieveForum has designed development spotlights for each leadership level – as shown in this table below.

Development Spotlight for Each Leadership Level

Development Spotlight for Each Leadership Level

6. What are the steps organisations in Asia Pacific should follow to bridge the leadership talent gap?

We are seeing talent shortages across certain industries in countries like Australia, Malaysia and Singapore, where there is a shortage of technology talent. According to research by Gartner, 25 percent of CIOs surveyed rank the talent and skills shortage as their biggest challenge.

That being said, there are encouraging signs; the Singapore government for instance, is focusing on growing local talent by increasing spending on education and training to over $1.5 million on average per year from present till 2020, as illustrated in the “Singapore Budget 2015 – Developing Our People” report.

As illustrated in our Leadership Development Trends report, organizations can employ some strategies to overcome the intensifying talent shortage:

  • Providing additional training and development to existing staff
  • Focusing on staff retention in positions where recruitment is difficult
  • Broadening search outside the local region
  • Increasing the focus on improving the leadership pipeline
  • Partnering with educational institutions to create curriculum aligned to talent needs.

7. What are the reasons for leadership shortage in Southeast Asia and how can organisations in the region step up efforts to promote leadership development?

The demographic shift towards an ageing population is the primary factor in the talent gap firms are facing today. Other factors include shrinking population, diversifying demographics, and an increasingly digitized world compound to this shortage and intensify the war for talent.

Technology, as we know, has played a key role in shaping workforce demands of the workforce. In a thriving and fast-growing digital economy, larger companies are beginning to take their technology expertise in-house in order to hone their capabilities and develop intellectual property.

With so much competition in the digital space, there is no question that digital talent has become a business imperative. As a result, we see shortage of talent particularly amplified in the digital, IT and technology sectors.

The fundamental approach to promoting leadership development is to build a workforce that is a source of competitive advantage. This means building upon a mind-set that skilled human capital is an integral asset and managing leaders is an investment, not an expense.

8. What should be done to promote more women workforce to assume leadership roles? What are the roadblocks to women leadership development in the Asian region?

The biggest roadblock continues to be the double bind that female leaders often find themselves in. The stereotyped female gender role depicts qualities of compassion and sensitivity – and yet in a leadership role, females often have to exhibit ‘masculine’ traits such as tenacity and assertiveness.

As mentioned earlier, organizations need to move the needle. Calls for gender diversity have been heard for decades, but the best-in-class organizations are the ones that not only succeed at diversity and inclusion around gender equality, but beyond that to include a broader focus on underrepresented groups.

To be able to create and drive such change, here are 4 key questions organizations need to ask themselves:

  • Are there standards on diversity in decision-making and project planning?
  • Are there standards on team diversity?
  • Is this a managed process and does it represent the organization’s intent of diversity and inclusion?
  • Are there meaningful metrics to track the effectiveness of programs that have been implemented to increase diversity?

Also read: Leadership Coaching: How to Turn Employee Zeros into Employee Superheroes?

Feature image credit: Freepik.com