By Daniel Hunter

Organisations across the UK are facing a leadership crisis according to new research from talent and career management specialist Right Management, which found that just one in eight (15 %) UK-based HR professionals think that their organisation has a robust leadership pipeline.

This problem is being acutely felt at a senior level, with many companies experiencing a “talent retrofit” whereby business leaders are only receiving development and training after they have been put into leadership roles.

A shortage of talent at all levels was reported to be the most pressing concern for 34 % of HR professionals around the world, dropping slightly to a quarter (27%) in the UK. Leadership planning is also a real concern, with a fifth (21%) of UK respondents saying that a lack of high potential leaders in the organisation was their greatest challenge in 2013 and one in ten (11%) saying that they routinely look externally before filling critical roles in their organisation.

The research, which surveyed 2,600 senior HR executives across 14 countries, found that organisations across the globe are facing the same leadership development challenge, with the USA and Canada being the least optimistic. Only 4% of HR directors in the USA and 7% in Canada felt that their current leadership pipeline can cover most of their business needs.

Organisations in Asia-Pacific are the most optimistic about having enough high potential leaders within their business compared to the global average. In Singapore, 30% of senior HR directors feel that they have an adequate leadership pipeline; in Japan 26%; and in India 27%. These percentages are still worryingly low.

“It’s becoming increasingly clear that very few organisations have a structured or systematic approach to identifying leadership potential. It can take several months to hire at a senior level which could leave many organisations facing a ‘leadership limbo’ if they don’t have potential high-level talent within their organisation," Mark Hodgson, talent management practice leader, Right Management, commented.

"To combat this, it’s vital that organisations align their talent agenda with the future needs of the business to ensure that they have a clear pipeline of talent at all levels. Leadership development needs to happen before people are put into leadership roles; without this, businesses risk facing a ‘talent retrofit’ which could take years to really come to fruition.”

Right Management has the following advice for companies looking to build a strong leadership pipeline:

· Identify your business critical roles: You can’t begin to build an effective talent pipeline without first taking time out to establish the roles that are most important to your business now, and which ones will prove vital in the coming years. This exercise needs to consider staff at all levels of the business to ensure that they get the right development support at the right time.

· Look beyond the CEO: When considering senior leadership, many businesses focus their energy on the CEO only but supporting senior roles should be given equal attention in terms of nurturing key talent and building a talent pipeline.

· Identify high potential leaders: These are individual managers who could perform successfully in leadership roles that are one to two levels above their current positions. Make sure you consider all aspects of their potential including their career drive, mobility and flexibility - not only their current performance.

· Avoid a “talent retrofit”: Too often, people get appointed to a position and then receive the training and development they need in order to do that role well. In any role, and particularly at a senior level, it’s crucial that professional development takes place before people move into it so they can be confident and capable. Without this, progress for both that individual and the organisation is likely to stall.

· Go global — If you are in a global organisation then it’s quite likely that your next business leader could come from a different country to where the main HR function is based. Ensure that you have the right system in place to identify high potential talent wherever they are in the world.

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