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Planning is key to succession

Published on Friday, 30 Apr 2010
Speakers at the conference (from left) Kenneth Wai of Island Shangri-La, Sureish Nathan of the Center for Creative Leadership, Brian Chitester of PepsiCo, Norris Hickerson of COL and Paul Arkwright of HR Magazine.
Photo: HR Magazine
HR Magazine

As Hong Kong continues to evolve as a service-based knowledge economy, employers need to devise effective policies that will allow them to attract, motivate and retain qualified staff.

That is no small challenge, a point made clear by speakers at a recent conference, organised by HR Magazine, who outlined some of the key factors companies must consider if they hope to adapt and thrive in the years ahead.

Drawing on 19 years' experience with a top multinational, Brian Chitester, chief personnel officer for the Asia-Pacific region for PepsiCo, focused on the importance of far-sighted planning and tailor-made training to develop successive generations of corporate leaders.

He recalls noticing in 2003 that a significant percentage of his own company's senior personnel would be eligible for retirement in the following five years. At the same time, the business was growing dramatically. To meet these twin challenges, Chitester responded by putting together a global leadership development programme.

"We had training programmes for all employees but needed to identify, develop and move the next generation of leaders," he says. "Therefore, we took bets on about 10 per cent of the up-and-coming high-potential people by providing extra development for this particular group."

The early steps involved compulsory assessments, 360-degree feedback and deciding on 15 critical experiences that each future leader should have as they move up the organisation. These included, for example, overseeing a business start-up, handling a fix-it situation, having an international assignment and working in both the beverage and snack divisions. 

"To make it operational, every year we identify 32 up-and-coming leaders," Chitester says. "And we arrange five-day training courses at an institute of higher learning, where it is a principle that senior managers have to be present and engaged, teaching something they are passionate about. We also make moves occur. If people don't get new roles and experience, you are not developing your next generation of leaders."

Sureish Nathan, vice-president at the Center for Creative Leadership, the event's main sponsor, agrees that such factors play a crucial part in talent retention. He notes that the challenges organisations face today are becoming more complex. It is vital to identify and close any gaps by promoting learning, encouraging peer sharing and recognising which skills will be more important.

For instance, feedback from a 2007 survey of senior executives had shown that, as required qualities, participative management and inspiring confidence were steadily gaining ground on the more traditional aspects such as strategic planning and managing change.

"Having the right leadership doesn't just happen; it needs to be cultivated," Nathan says. "The dynamics will change; people want to be involved. Collaboration will be a key skill; it impacts on how your team works and how engaged they are."

Kenneth Wai, Asia director of human resources for the Island Shangri-La, Hong Kong, highlights the value of a wide-ranging corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme. It is possible to create a community of responsible and educated citizens who prefer to work for an employer that supports initiatives related to such areas as climate change. 

Key points

  • Employers need clear and realistic strategies to retain and motivate staff
  • It is essential to invest in training the next generation of leaders
  • Comprehensive CSR initiatives can be an invaluable tool for retention


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