While most companies are focusing on their bottom-line profits and stock price, 10,000 baby boomers are retiring daily, creating an imminent leadership gap. Yet, according to a global study by WorkplaceTrends.com and Saba, only 23% of companies have made succession planning a high priority. “The challenge with succession planning is that it’s something that’s so easy for a CEO to put off until tomorrow,” says Marshall Goldsmith, author of Succession: Are You Ready?  

Building tomorrow’s C-suite will require a new approach to succession planning. Millennials, in particular, have very different expectations for their work life. Less than one-third (31%) of those employed aspire to become executives, while a study by Elance-oDesk found that more than half of millennial employees (58%) expect to leave their jobs in three years or less. Planning will also require adopting a gender-balanced approach to staffing. Advancing the position of women in the business world and in the engineering field will be particularly important in regions like the Middle East, for example, as noted today during “Future of Work: Middle East”, a high-level event programmed by The Economist Events and sponsored by GE.

The overall challenge is thus one of both talent acquisition and talent retention. Social media will play an important role on the acquisition side. “Social networks have been a great source for executive recruitment and relationship-building,” says Arie Ball, VP of talent acquisition at Sodexo. “We recently hired a regional vice president after finding him on LinkedIn and seeing that he had the experience we were looking for,” she notes. The relationship goes both ways: As of 2014, nearly half (48%) of new Sodexo hires had interacted with the company’s social media sites as part of their job search.

As for retention, a sine qua non condition will be to provide employees with talent-development opportunities. This is particularly important for manufacturing companies, very few of which made it to Fortune’s 2015 list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For”. One strategy that combines acquisition and retention is GE’s Early Career Leadership programme, during which participants go through rotational assignments to see how they handle leadership challenges. Successful participants are then able to take a GE leadership position — which may require years of experience they don’t yet have — thus ensuring retention.

A clear career development path will be equally important. Open exchange between executives on the issue is essential. Scripps Health’s Leadership Academy, for example, is an annual manager programme during which executives discuss their career paths and leadership styles and the CEO answers questions. “It’s the most in-depth orientation to how this organisation really runs,” says Chris Van Gorder, the firm’s current CEO. The company, which is especially concerned with succession planning since half of its workforce is retiring or near-retirement baby boomers, has combined this approach with talent development to reduce its turnover rate from 25% in 2001 to 10.4% today.

As the above suggests, clearly addressing the present and future leadership gap will not be easy or done quickly. In fact, it will probably require long-term and sustained efforts. And, as with any long-term challenge of critical importance, those that start positioning now by building their pipeline of future leaders will be those best positioned for future success.

This article is published in collaboration with GE LookAhead. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

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Author: Dan Schawbel is a workplace expert, the Founder of WorkplaceTrends.com and the New York Times bestselling author of Promote Yourself and Me 2.0.

Image: A Businesswoman is silhouetted. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann.