The Leadership Shortage

Most HR professionals worry their companies haven’t identified the firm’s future leaders. Others haven’t even started looking. A new Korn Ferry survey.


It’s the goal of any HR employee to hire, create, and maintain a pipeline of people who can become the leader of the company in the future. Unfortunately, many hiring professionals feel those leadership pipelines are pretty thin.

Nearly 70% of HR professionals aren’t confident that their organization currently has the right people to guide the company into the future, according to a new Korn Ferry survey. Worse, only 14% of them say they are confident that their organization has identified the right people internally as high-potential talent.

Experts say it shapes up to be a critical problem for organizations, particularly if companies aren’t finding high-potential talent early in their careers. “Your future CEO could be sitting in that small cube doing entry-level work,” says Lisa Niesen, Korn Ferry’s vice president and general manager of assessment.

Korn Ferry surveyed more than 1,000 talent-acquisition professionals globally in late 2019. Experts say it’s critical for leaders to develop a talent strategy that fits the firm’s business strategy, and then scientifically assess which people have the potential to grow and guide the company in the future.

Finding talent has been a major concern for several years as the pain from the Great Recession has faded. Indeed, an earlier Korn Ferry study said that by 2030, there will be a global human talent shortage of more than 85 million people, or roughly equivalent to the population of Germany.

But the worry goes beyond just finding the right people for an open role, it’s finding people who can take that role and eventually grow into a leadership position. Of those surveyed, 82% said their firms are placing greater emphasis on finding future leaders than they were five years ago.

However, nearly half, or 45%, say their organization doesn’t have any program in place. At the same time, the programs that are in place have some problems. Traditional routes toward leadership have often been designed for siloed, heavily structured roles that involve getting one group of people to do one thing well. But this kind of leadership may not fit the future of work, as more workers of different backgrounds and disciplines are grouped together to work on projects.

Two-thirds of respondents said they are not looking deep enough into the organization to identify those with potential. Only 10% say their programs include evaluating entry-level recruits on their potential for future leadership. By not looking at those young recruits, firms risk watching those workers become leaders somewhere else. “Rest assured that they’ll leave and one day be leading another company, not yours,” Niesen says.