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Succession Planning in a New Age

21 October 2020

Member Blog submitted by impactHR

While succession planning is not nearly a new concept, its need may never be more apparent in the face of a global pandemic. In the age of COVID-19, the pressure is on many companies to draw up plans for business continuity to ensure the long-term sustainability of their business. I think it’s also safe to say that COVID-19 is also proving that succession planning programs must not be static, they must be adaptable to changing times and the ways in which we run our business.

A robust succession planning process will involve identifying the competencies the business requires to remain competitive, developing a deep talent bench, creating a comprehensive plan for leadership transitions, and engaging talent with targeted development activities. Having a succession planning program in place will provide the organization with insight into how much potential employees have for future roles, how strong or weak the current bench is, and what competencies drive performance in critical roles.

In today’s blog, we will take a deeper dive into the importance of succession planning in the context of the current COVID-19 pandemic.


Succession Planning in a New Age

Since the onset of the pandemic, there has likely been serious disruptions to succession plans that may have been in process. These are unprecedented times, and it may be difficult to say, and fairly speculative, what the broad impact of COVID-19 has had on succession plans across businesses in Canada. However, I believe that the current pandemic has provided a leadership test for many who have been identified as future successors.

The pandemic has, in many ways, showcased the leadership potential in some talent, but also highlighted development opportunities for others. During the transition to a remote workforce, some leaders have been able to demonstrate a keen ability to adapt during difficult times, and other leaders have struggled significantly. The crisis that we’re currently navigating has really called attention to the need to develop various leadership skills, such as change management, communication, flexibility, adaptability, critical thinking, and team building. While these are common leadership competencies, continued emphasis will have to be placed on developing these competencies to compete in a remote work environment.

COVID-19 has very much forced companies to re-evaluate their existing succession plans and revisit the leadership competencies that they will require in a relatively new world of remote and digital work. I also think COVID-19 has really accentuated the need for organizations to have communication mechanisms in place for leaders to allow for the communication of critical information.

We’ve been in a digital world for some time now, but many companies have taken a long time to adapt. The pandemic has thrown a curveball and expedited this transition. Companies are now forced into a position to transform their business, so they can carry on operations in a remote and technological landscape.


What’s the impact on how businesses plan for future crises?

There will also certainly be long-term effects COVID-19 has on how businesses plan for emergencies and crises. The pandemic has certainly put pressure on companies to strengthen or create business continuity and succession plans. I can speak for several of our firm’s clients that a strong emphasis and priority has been placed on succession planning since March of this year. I would say that generally speaking, companies are probably in better shape in terms of business continuity and succession than they were pre-COVID, simply because the pandemic has forced companies to adapt and draw up plans that accounts for emergencies and crises.

At the very least, I’ve seen companies through the pandemic develop plans for emergency replacements in the event that people in key leadership positions are not able to fulfill their duties. By no means is this alone a viable long-term solution (as it is merely putting a band aid on the situation), but it’s a start. Going forward, I think the current situation will prompt companies to think longer-term, to install more formalized and proactive planning mechanisms to ensure the business is in a place where it can be nimble and respond effectively in the face of a crisis.

In the past, I’ve seen all too often when leaders or subject matter experts leave a company and take with them their institutional knowledge. The issue has been, in those situations, that there was no mechanism in place for continuity. Over my career, I’ve always made it a priority to support with proactive succession planning, to create a mechanism to pass on institutional knowledge, and help create a deep talent bench where the company is prepared for proper leadership transitions.

In summary, companies are starting to realize how important succession planning and business continuity is, as it really can provide a source of competitive advantage. Realistically, I feel the companies that have the most robust succession and business continuity plans are those companies who can make it through exactly the type of crisis were living through right now. It is certainly the time to act to ensure business sustainability.


About the Author

Greg Hussey is a Human Resources professional with over ten years of progressive and diverse experience. Greg has a passion for helping organizations develop their people, working closely in building a culture of high-performance and accountability through the successful deployment of succession programs and business continuity plans.

Greg is the President of impactHR, a dedicated outsourcing solution for human resources. They help ensure businesses have a strong HR foundation that will support their business goals.

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