Protecting culture when the leadership mantle is passed on

The demands placed upon leaders and their businesses by employees are continuously evolving. They are expected to understand, reflect and respond to the values, wants and needs of their entire workforce, especially if they wish to retain talent in an extremely competitive market. And recent ManpowerGroup research has identified a number of workforce trends that are driving a response from leaders across all sectors.

With Gen Z set to make up 27% of the workforce by 2025, ESG and DEIB will become even more central to people strategies. 68% of employees are not satisfied with their company’s progress in creating a diverse and inclusive work environment, while 52% of younger individuals say that companies are not doing enough to support the environment. Which is no surprise, when only 6% of businesses say they have the talent needed to achieve their ESG goals.

Then, leaders are also having to contend with a newfound demand for greater flexibility. 42% of millennials want more work/life balance and believe that asynchronous work is the future of work. Plus, a new report from Bloomberg Intelligence found that 73% of employees who are currently permitted to work from home would leave their current role if this flexibility was taken away.

Being able to meet these expectations is only made possible by an effective leadership population working to build and sustain a culture that is centered on aligning with the values and needs of its workforce. Through doing so, all the necessary initiatives, mission statements and practices can be instilled into the framework of the organisation.

But what happens when the leadership population changes unexpectedly?

Whether it’s a new Managing Director being appointed, or a mass overhaul of the wider leadership team; whenever there’s change at the top, its likely to be felt at each level of the business. After all, with new personnel comes new opinions and ideas – priorities can shift, the vision of the organisation can change, and initiatives previously put in place in response to employee demand can be deprioritised in favour of alternatives. And if these changes are made without due consideration, the negative impact felt by the business could be significant.

For example, in the event of wholesale changes being made to the leadership team, and a less diverse group of leaders being put in place, an organisation is likely to struggle attracting talent – as 56% of employees wouldn’t accept a role without diverse leadership. Similarly, if a decision was made to scrap ESG initiatives in favour of cost-saving solutions, talent retention and attraction would become equally challenging – as 71% of young people want to avoid careers that hurt the planet.

In essence, if major changes are made within an organisation’s leadership population without the proper steps being taken, an entire culture could be lost.

So, how does an organisation ensure their culture remains intact when the leadership mantle is passed on?

Change is inevitable at all levels of business, and as senior leaders play such an integral role in developing and maintaining a positive workplace culture, the impetus is very much on them to ensure that it is sustainable beyond their own tenure, and not something that will be lost in transition. Which is where developing leader pipelines and ensuring continuity with succession planning becomes essential.

Cultivating future leaders is key to ensuring that there are individuals within the business who understand and can continue the work of the existing leadership team, should personnel move around or leave the organisation. By identifying and supporting their successors, existing leaders can ensure that the right leadership talent is in place and is ready to take on the mantle – individuals that are aligned with the business’ overarching goals, vision and values, and who are committed to retaining an employee-centric culture.

What should leaders be doing to cultivate this talent in light of current trends?

Our research tells us there are 15 behaviours that constitute effective leadership. Here, we’ll be examining four that are particularly valuable in response to current trends:

Drive social and environment responsibility: As ESG is so important to a vast majority of the workforce, it’s essential that leaders create the conditions for themselves and others to be proactively engaged in sustainability practices and creating social value. This way, individuals who are likely to become leaders in the future will already be engaged with and committed to the continuity of ESG initiatives, ensuring the business remains on track to achieving its net zero targets.

Enable inclusion: With DEIB being integral to attracting and retaining talent, leaders will need to embrace difference and actively encourage and value the involvement of all voices and views. In doing so, a more diverse talent pipeline can be built – where employees of all backgrounds feel capable of pursuing a leadership position – ensuring DEIB will remain at the heart of the leadership population, thus meeting the expectations of the future workforce.

Coach to unleash talent: A key driver behind cultivating future leaders is helping individuals realise their potential. Which is why leaders should be focused on creating a culture of coaching, where each employee is equipped to reach their full potential in their careers. By actively supporting the ongoing development of their direct reports, business leaders can identify successors and ensure a smooth transition when change becomes necessary.

Build trust: Especially in a hybrid world where employees may feel somewhat disconnected from their leadership team, building trust is essential. Employees want to know they can trust their leaders to not only support them as individuals, but to deliver on the promises they’ve made regarding the business’ wider social commitments. By championing and reflecting the organisation’s values, senior leaders can earn the respect of their workforce and be seen as role models for future leaders to aspire towards.


To find out more about effective leadership and how your organisation can be better equipped to manage the expectations of the emerging workforce, read our Leading with Impact research.