Executive Succession Planning for Leadership Excellence

A leading global pharmaceutical company approached Armstrong Craven to support them with leadership succession planning for a critical area of their business.

Background & Scope 

The business recognized the need for taking a proactive approach to external executive succession planning through talent pipelining, to complement and strengthen their internal succession plans. Of paramount importance was to maintain operational continuity whilst ensuring a smooth transition of leadership when required.

However, the business had mixed success in the past with external talent pipelining when they tried to do this alone, and had failed to achieve their goals due to a number of factors, including:

  • The difficulty in maintaining a seamless workflow between HR and Talent Acquisition. Strategic talent pipelining involves sourcing and attracting candidates by TA and socializing and maintaining candidate interest for up to 18 months by HR and the business. Managing the candidate handover and keeping the talent pipeline warm is often difficult to navigate in a large, matrixed organization.

  • Strategic talent pipelining would often slide down the list at times when hiring for open roles became the priority, and the business would lose focus, often at a critical time. Succession candidates would become disengaged or worse, fall out of the process.

  • The unique skill set required for this future-focused activity poses a challenge for many recruiters, hindering effective approaches to potential candidates for future needs.

  • Business leaders require coaching on recognizing the importance of talent pipelining, understanding their crucial role in it, and sharing the workload.

  • Business leaders also need to be coached on how to conduct a conversation with a candidate for a potential role that doesn’t exist yet. They need to be able to hold a ‘career conversation’ as opposed to  an interview where they would assess the candidate as of now, rather than where they will be in 12 months

The Need

When the company approached Armstrong Craven in mid-2023, it had faced several challenges with respect to future talent pipelining in the US. They knew they had several areas in their corporate commercial functions that were lacking in succession strength given their current VP population and were looking for a partner with deep expertise in future-focused, succession talent pipelining,  to effectively deliver the sourcing and attraction process and then to drive the all-important second phase of managing the pipeline of candidates to ensure they continue to have a great experience, until such a time when a role becomes live.

Phase 1

Initially, our team consisted of two dedicated sourcing specialists working alongside a project leader, who would meet weekly with the client to evaluate activity and progress. Our team was tasked with identifying and engaging talent at VP level in sales, marketing and market access, across several therapeutic areas. The team initially mapped out relevant profiles using a wide range of sourcing tools and then drew up a strategy to approach this talent cohort. Unlike a typical search, it is best to approach people with a transparent message, explaining the nature of the project. This removes any confusion around the purpose. It also opens up your market as the majority of people at this level will have a plan for their personal development whether that timeframe be 6 months or 2 years.

The team were also able to plug into the business unit leaders, who would be hiring for their teams, to learn and, alongside HR, educate them on the part they would need to play in the process. With this deliberate approach, we were able to map out with consistency, diverse talent in the market, with the intention of providing shortlists of diverse talent. 

Our approach soon gathered pace and the team spoke to interested candidates, initiating our tried and tested Armstrong Craven “career conversation” approach, focusing on current responsibility, motivations, personal and career ambitions and development, and perceptions of our client and the market in general. Overwhelmingly, the feedback from candidates to this strategic approach was fantastic, with many telling us “I wish my company did this”. At the end of phase 1 (3 months), we had a final pipeline of 50 candidates (5 per role) to take into phase 2 of the project.

Phase 2

Phase two was to manage the initial conversation for each of our candidates with the respective business unit leader, taking care of any NDAs and diary management. This also involved keeping in regular contact with business leaders and candidates, facilitating socialization, either virtually or face to face where possible at industry conferences and events.

During that period, we were able to facilitate all communication, as well as being able to manage any candidates that “dropped out” of our pipeline for any reason and provide replacements so the pipeline never went cold. Having built strong talent pipelines for future senior hiring in this space and managed this pipeline throughout this period of time, the client will be in a great position to be able to fill their future open roles seamlessly and with minimal disruption to the running of the business. This view across the talent market will be used to determine hiring decisions across this level in 2024. 

When comparing this approach with more traditional methods of recruitment at this level, it is clear that talent pipelining provides a strategic and controlled way of securing senior talent. With traditional recruitment, you have to wait for a role to become open (at which point by definition it is now urgent), engage a search firm (which always incurs a large fee), and at a point in time, have to choose from a limited shortlist of candidates - just those who happen to be interested in the role and able to move right now. The advantages of talent pipelining not only remove the urgency and reactive nature of the hire but provides considerable ROI.

Benefits of External Talent Succession Planning:

Key Results:

  • 10 job families initiated
  • 500 relevant profiles mapped
  • 50 candidates submitted  
  • 125 candidates screened  
  • 39% gender diversity (female)
  • 42% other diversity across the pipelines

Additional Benefits 

Budget visibility: our client pays nothing beyond the monthly fee for the embedded resources (there are no placement fees to be paid, ever), so they always know exactly what the partnership will cost them looking ahead

Process improvement: our embedded team and the wider project team provides ongoing input on how the company’s recruitment processes can be improved

Reduced reliance on executive searchan embedded team of sourcing specialists/full-stack recruiters allows the client to rely less on expensive traditional search firms

Candidate cross-sellingcandidates that are not suited to a position released to us will be put forward for other roles – or for future hiring needs – when we deem them to be potentially of relevance to the client

Ongoing Talent Pipeliningthe candidates we source but who don’t become part of these pipelines are part of a stronger, more diverse talent pipeline for our client’s future hiring needs

Data ownership: we provide the client with full ownership of all the data generated for them, thereby allowing them to make additional hires – now or in the future – at no additional cost

Contact our team today to learn more about our services, including Talent Sourcing, Executive Search, Talent Insights, Talent Mapping, and Talent Pipelining.


Get in touch