Language proficiency and succession planning: Developing future leaders

Berenice Lopez
business people in a board room with a graph on the wall behind
Reading time: 7 minutes

In today’s fast-paced business landscape, proactive succession planning is essential for HR professionals. Preparing the next generation of leaders is a business-critical initiative, to ensure organizational continuity, agility and long-term success.

Succession planning is often high up on the HR agenda, as it also promotes progression, reduces business disruption, and attracts top talent. There are many components to effective succession planning, including skills development, but one skill that’s often overlooked in this process is communication. One often overlooked yet highly influential component of effective succession planning is language proficiency.

At Pearson ELL, we believe strongly in the power of language and have designed our succession planning strategy with this in mind. The focus is on creating multilingual leaders who are not only proficient in their respective fields but also have a deep understanding of global culture and market dynamics.

In this blog post, we explore how communication skills and specifically language proficiency plays a pivotal role in succession planning and the development of future leaders. We’ll also provide actionable insights for HR professionals and managers on integrating language development into their succession strategies. As well as some insights from our very own ELL HR team.

Integrating languages into succession planning
Privacy and cookies

By watching, you agree Pearson can share your viewership data for marketing and analytics for one year, revocable by deleting your cookies.

What is succession planning?

Succession planning is a strategic process that organizations employ to identify and develop internal personnel with the potential to fill key leadership positions in the future. The succession planning process involves steps such as identifying key roles, assessing potential candidates, developing talent through training and mentoring, and regularly reviewing and updating the plan. This systematic approach ensures that businesses have a pipeline of qualified and capable leaders ready to step up when current leaders vacate their roles due to retirement, career progression, or unforeseen circumstances.

Effective succession planning goes beyond merely filling vacancies; it focuses on growing leaders who are aligned with the organization’s culture, values and business strategies. A well-developed succession planning strategy is crucial for identifying and preparing successors for senior leadership roles, emphasizing long-term talent development and leadership training. It involves a comprehensive assessment of potential leaders’ skills, performance and development needs, coupled with targeted training and mentoring programs. By investing in succession planning, organizations can mitigate risks, sustain their competitive edge, and ensure business continuity in an ever-evolving marketplace.

Implementing a succession plan

 Successful succession planning involves:

  • Step 1: Identify roles: Recognizing the positions that are critical to the business and the individuals who have the potential to fill these roles in the future. This ensures business continuity and reduces the impact of turnover.
  • Step 2: Identify candidates: Strategically identifying and nurturing potential employees within the company to fill key organizational roles in the future.
  • Step 3: Prepare employees: Offering training and experiences that prepare these individuals for future leadership positions within the company.
  • Step 4: Transition: Implementing strategies that allow for a seamless shift of responsibilities when the time comes.

For internal candidates, we utilize a combination of performance evaluations, language proficiency assessments by the leader, and leadership potential indicators to identify candidates for key roles.

Additional benefits of succession planning

In addition to ensuring business continuity and minimizing the impact of turnover, succession planning can also support your wider HR initiatives, including:

  • Attracting top talent: An organization that has a well-developed succession plan in place signals to potential candidates that it values employee development and career progression. This can be a significant draw for top talent.
  • Fostering employees’ motivation and engagement: When employees see opportunities for growth and advancement within the organization, they are more likely to be motivated and engaged in their work.
  • Promoting diversity and inclusivity: By identifying and developing a diverse pool of leaders, succession planning helps organizations foster a culture of diversity and inclusivity.
  • Saving time and costs: Succession planning enables organizations to proactively prepare candidates for leadership positions, saving time and resources that would otherwise be spent on external recruitment. With external hiring costing, on average, 18-20% more than internally.

Integrating language proficiency into succession planning

Effective communication is fundamental to strong leadership, particularly when working with international teams. Mastery of English, the global business language, is essential. Enhancing English proficiency can significantly improve a leader's ability to communicate clearly and effectively with diverse audiences, making them more adaptable and confident in their roles.

Incorporating language training into leadership development programs is vital for identifying and nurturing future leaders. These programs should include personalized development plans, talent assessments, and considerations for diversity to better adapt to global and remote work environments.

1. Assessment and identification of key positions

Start by assessing the current language skills within your organization and identifying key positions that are critical to your business operations and future goals. Recognize the importance of these roles and ensure that you have effective succession planning in place. Evaluate potential leaders not only on their existing competencies but also on their ability to learn new languages.

At Pearson Languages, when it comes to identifying potential successors for key roles, we look beyond performance metrics. We consider language proficiency an essential skill set. Our Talent Management team works closely with the HR department and department heads to identify employees with strong language skills. These are individuals who not only excel in their current roles but also display the potential to take on bigger responsibilities.

We understand the risks and gaps that may arise in succession planning. To mitigate these, we conduct regular risk assessments and gap analyses, focusing especially on roles requiring specific language skills. For roles with specialized language requirements, we take a proactive approach by investing in targeted recruitment, promoting the use of our products for self-improvement, and providing immersive language experiences.

2. Training and development

Incorporate talent development programs into your leadership development programs to nurture high-potential employees through structured training. This can be done through formal classes, online courses, or immersive experiences such as international assignments or exchanges.

Encourage continuous learning and provide resources that make language acquisition accessible and engaging. When looking at language training you can use applications like Mondly by Pearson Workplace English to make learning relevant, fun and easy for staff.

Here at Pearson Languages, we believe in continuous learning and provide our employees with a plethora of opportunities to enhance their skills. This includes access to e-learning platforms, regular workshops and seminars.

3. Real-world application

Create opportunities for emerging leaders to use their language skills in real-world situations, emphasizing the importance of developing a competent leadership team that can fulfil both operational and strategic responsibilities. This could involve leading multinational projects, participating in global conferences, or managing international teams. Practical application solidifies language skills and builds confidence.

As for us here at Pearson Languages. Our company provides ongoing opportunities for high-potential employees to enhance their skills. Through mentoring, coaching and buddy support opportunities. Regular events focusing on professional development and internal groups that encourage knowledge sharing and collaborative learning.

4. Cultural training

Combine language training with cultural education. Offer workshops and seminars that cover cultural norms, business etiquette, and effective communication strategies for different global or local regions. This approach ensures that key leaders are not only linguistically proficient but also culturally competent, which is crucial for developing employees who might perform well in top leadership roles.

To prepare employees for future leadership roles that require language proficiency, we believe in practical learning. Our initiatives include cross-cultural leadership interactions and various engagement initiatives aimed at promoting language skills and cultural competency.

5. Keeping plans up to date

Once you've implemented the plan, it's important to keep it regularly updated to avoid any issues. A systematic approach to monitoring and evaluating progress is crucial to ensuring the effectiveness of language integration in succession planning. Establish key performance indicators (KPIs) related to language proficiency and regularly assess how these are being met.

This involves tracking the progress of language development in emerging leaders through assessments, feedback sessions and performance reviews. Such continuous evaluation allows organizations to make necessary adjustments to their training programs and to address any emerging gaps swiftly.

As a dynamic business, we believe in keeping our succession plans current. They are reviewed and updated annually to ensure our readiness to manage unexpected changes and evolving business needs. The focus of these reviews includes reassessing the language requirements for all critical roles while aligning with our global strategy.

Our commitment to continuous improvement helps us refine and enhance our succession planning strategy. Through regular feedback loops, monitoring industry benchmarks, and staying updated with the latest best practices, we continue to focus on incorporating language skills into our planning.

Successful integration of language proficiency

Talent management is an invaluable asset in the toolkit of future leaders. By recognizing its importance and integrating it with succession planning and leadership development practices, HR professionals and managers can explore employees' career paths and skills development while focusing on filling critical roles within the company.

Being part of a leadership development program that integrates language proficiency is an amazing opportunity for employees to enrich their lives and careers with essential language skills. These skills are pivotal in propelling them through the ranks within the organization. For individuals aspiring to international leadership positions, highlighting the organization's commitment to supporting language acquisition can be a significant draw. This not only demonstrates the company's investment in its employees' growth but also underscores its dedication to fostering a pool of well-rounded, competent leaders.

By focusing on language skills, the organisation ensures its leaders thrive, are equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the complexities of a global marketplace, and are ready to elevate their careers alongside the organisation's success.

 Find out how Pearson can support your team with language training and assessment for businesses.

Discover Pearson Language Solutions for Work

More blogs from Pearson

  • A business woman sat at a table in a office writing notes

    Hard skills vs. soft skills: The impact of language learning

    By Charlotte Guest
    Reading time: 6 minutes

    Hard skills and soft skills play a crucial role in defining career success and progression. The difference between hard skills and soft skills is that hard skills are teachable, technical, measurable abilities specific to particular jobs, while soft skills are more interpersonal, universal and related to personality traits. While hard skills refer to the technical knowledge and specific abilities required to perform a job, soft skills are more intangible. They encompass the interpersonal attributes and personality traits that enable individuals to communicate effectively, work collaboratively and adapt to changes in the workplace environment.

    In this blog post, we will explore how learning a new language can significantly enhance both hard and soft skills, making you a more versatile and effective professional in today’s multifaceted work environment.

    Understanding the balance of hard and soft skills

    Hard skills might get your foot in the door, showcasing your qualifications for a position. Developing hard skills to stand out from other job seekers is crucial; take advantage of classes, webinars and workshops offered by your current employer to develop hard skills and learn new technical skills. Examples include proficiency in a particular software, certification in a specific field, or mastery of a technical domain. However, it’s the soft skills, such as effective communication, collaboration, critical thinking and emotional intelligence, that propel you through the door and into the realms of career advancement. Recent research underscores the growing importance of English proficiency as a pivotal element in this dynamic, equally vital for enhancing both sets of skills.

    What are examples of soft skills?

    Soft skills encompass a wide range of attributes that can significantly impact workplace efficiency and harmony. Examples of essential soft skills include:

    Communication: The ability to convey information clearly and effectively is paramount. This includes both verbal and written communication, as well as active listening skills.

    Teamwork: Collaborating well with others, often with diverse backgrounds and perspectives, to achieve common goals.

    Problem-solving: The capability to analyze situations, identify problems and devise effective solutions.

    Adaptability: The readiness to adjust to new conditions, workflows, or technologies, demonstrating flexibility in the face of change.

    Critical thinking: The process of objectively analyzing information to make informed decisions.

    Emotional intelligence: The ability to understand, manage and utilize one's emotions constructively while also recognizing and influencing the emotions of others.

    What are examples of hard skills?

    Hard skills are quantifiable, teachable abilities specific to a job or industry. These skills are typically acquired through formal education, training programs and practical experience. Some examples of essential hard skills include:

    Computer programming: Proficiency in coding and programming languages, such as Python, Java, C++, or HTML/CSS is crucial for software development and web design roles.

    Data analysis: The ability to interpret complex data sets using tools like Excel, SQL, or R, providing valuable insights and informing decision-making processes.

    Graphic design: Mastery of design software such as Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign, enabling the creation of visual content for various media.

    Foreign language proficiency: Fluency in a second language can be an asset in international business, for example, in translation services or customer support roles.

    Project management: Knowledge of project management methodologies (e.g., Agile, Scrum) and tools (e.g., Microsoft Project, Jira) to plan, execute and oversee projects effectively.

    Technical writing: The skill of crafting clear, precise documentation and instructional materials, essential in industries such as engineering, IT and pharmaceuticals.

  • Business people sat and waiting in a row

    Boost the quality of your hires with English proficiency testing

    By Samantha Yates
    Reading time: 6.5 minutes

    Hire quality is top of the agenda for recruiters and talent acquisition leaders. Discover the impact of English skill testing on hiring fit-for-role employees.

    The results are in… thousands of recruiting professionals and top talent acquisition leaders say that sourcing high-quality candidates is their number one objective in 2024 and beyond.

    54% of recruiters are now prioritizing quality of hire above all else, according to LinkedIn’s Talent Solutions report The Future of Recruiting 2024. The report also highlights that 73% are using a skills-based approach to find top-quality hires, faster, with skills that fit the business both now and in future.

    Getting recruitment right can drastically impact productivity. In the UK alone, effective recruitment boosts productivity by £7.7bn each year, according to the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). Conversely, the direct and indirect costs of mistake hires are a constant concern to organizations, not just in the UK but around the world. According to a survey of 400 hiring decision-makers by CareerBuilder, 75% have hired the wrong person and say that one bad hire costs them nearly $17,000 on average. It’s no surprise then that skills-based quality hiring is such a top priority for recruiters.

    It’s harder than it might seem to systematically increase the quality of your hires, especially when you’re recruiting at scale. But the rewards are high when you get it right and a skills-first approach increases your chances of success – particularly when you focus on core skills like English proficiency that underpin communication. As an added bonus, skills-based testing can speed up the recruitment process significantly.

  • A group of women celebrating with confetti

    The Global Scale of English: A decade of innovation in language education

    By Pearson Languages
    Reading time: 4 minutes

    This month marks 10 years since the launch of the Global Scale of English (GSE) and what a journey it has been. As we celebrate this important milestone, it’s time to reflect on everything that has been achieved over the past decade and to take pride in the work that has contributed to the advancement of language learning, teaching and assessment around the world.