John-Claude Hesketh: Recruiting and retaining talented leaders – now and in the future

Every company expects its senior talent to be successful – especially if that talent is hired from outside the organisation or even outside the industry. But it’s impossible to take a cookie-cutter approach to executive search and expect success. After all, every individual is as different as the companies they work for and that are looking to hire them. Everyone brings their own unique skillset to a job and, at the same time, their own limitations. Simply because someone was successful at Google, for example, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be a success at HSBC, Tesco, or even Adobe.

Recruiting only the best talent to executive leadership positions is obviously in an organisation’s best interests. But while a candidate may look eminently qualified on paper, there’s no guarantee they have the diverse range of talents needed to drive future growth for the business. Talent management strategies must therefore be designed to ensure that organisations not only attract the best candidates but will also work to develop their strengths to best serve the business now and in years to come.

At some point, though, everyone – even the most senior executives – will need some help in developing their talents and maximising their potential. Get it right, and an organisation’s talent management strategy can provide that help.

The importance of onboarding

When taking up a senior leadership role, external hires often know very little about the business they’re joining or the people it employs. A strong, structured onboarding plan is therefore essential to helping them assimilate, bringing them up to speed as quickly and as smoothly as possible, and equipping them with the resources and knowledge they need for success.

Engaging a coach or executive sponsor is also advisable. It can be lonely at the top, and senior executives will often find themselves in need of a sounding board. Simply knowing there is someone with experience of the business that they can go to for advice means they can be less concerned about those first few weeks and months.

Ultimately, this combination of structured onboarding and corporate counsel will take some pressure off new senior executives when they first join a new business. Not only will it provide them with the intelligence they need to perform to the best of their ability, but it will help engender a more trusting and respectful relationship with their new employer. Emphasising this mutual sense of respect can have its own benefits.

Money is not always king

While a competitive salary undoubtedly counts for a lot, retaining talented executives is not just about the money. Successful people generally want to be rewarded with more than just a financial bonus. And if all they really want is an extra zero on their payslip, they’re probably more likely to leave an organisation eventually, and find it elsewhere.

Appreciation and recognition of talents and achievements are far more important. At heart, people want to feel valued; they want to know that what they do matters. Those who have deeper ambitions – who have a passion to develop themselves and their business – want to keep learning, and to feel the organisation is equally as invested in them.

Talent management teams should make the effort to find out what makes the talent in their company’s tick. By offering them the recognition they seek, and demonstrating investment in development, businesses will enjoy far greater loyalty from their talent than they would by just focusing on financial incentives.

The signs of true leadership

It’s important for talent management teams to keep one eye on the future. Rather than simply judging candidates just on what they offer as an individual, greater emphasis should be placed on testing their track record of training new talent to ensure there is a line of succession in place for when they eventually step down.

As well as minimising friction when the transition happens, the ability of senior executives to develop their own successors can play into an organisation’s diversity and inclusion (D&I) initiatives. Despite an increase in the number of women in the boardroom, recent reports demonstrate that boardrooms are still largely male. By drawing on the wealth of untapped potential that exists within their own organisation, however, today’s senior leaders can help to address this for future generations of executives.

Leadership talent is out there; finding it and retaining it requires a change of direction for talent management. A structured approach to bringing new executives into the business, arming with knowledge and experienced counsel, will increase their chances of success. Demonstrating their value to the business – in non-financial terms – will increase their loyalty. And enabling them to develop other talent internally will increase diversity at the top, as well as enabling a smooth succession planning process.

Identifying and developing senior talent to become better leaders will ultimately lead to increased loyalty and results for the organisation and a greater sense of professional achievement and fulfilment for the individual.





John-Claude Hesketh leads Marlin Hawk’s International business. He is responsible for the day to day management of the International organisation, whilst partnering with numerous global clients and their leaders on executive talent strategy. He has been responsible for some of the most innovative appointments in global executive search and frequently challenges clients to think differently about approaching traditional and common problems with a positively disruptive mindset.