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
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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.

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