Succession Planning Has Never Been More Important

04/15/2020 by Richard Spragg

As we hit the middle of the second quarter, we inhabit a business landscape that offers incredibly low visibility in all directions. The fog of uncertainty is everywhere. Our first priority is the health and safety of our people and their families. We want to make sure everyone is doing what they need to do to stay safe during this period. At the same time, we need to do everything we can to protect our businesses both now and in the long-term.

The things we know for certain are that there will be significant economic consequences from the COVID-19 crisis, that jobs will be lost in almost every sector, and that full economic recovery will take time.

There are a number of strategic aspects of crisis planning and recovery which merit your attention now. One of these is succession planning. In normal circumstances, we look at succession planning through three lenses: short term – emergencies; medium term – six to twelve months; and long term – up to three years.

It’s more important than ever to understand who in your organization is going to assume the duties of key people in the event of their exiting the business, temporarily or permanently, and whether or not you have the skills needed internally.

There are five reasons to make this a priority during this period.

1. There’s A New Level Of Urgency, Brought By An Unexpected “Worst-Case” Scenario

All succession planning should include provisions for the immediate, unforeseen loss or unavailability of a key resource. What’s changed now is the increased likelihood of that eventuality. COVID-19 need not be fatal, or even near fatal, to be significantly disruptive from a business perspective. During a busy time for most HR departments, it would be wise to prioritize a basic coverage plan for each critical member of your team if they need to be offline for a number of weeks without notice. Business continuity will depend upon the plan you put in place to replace key contributors.

2. Layoffs Are Painful Enough, Don’t Make The Wrong Ones

Individuals do not operate in a vacuum. During downsizing, it may seem sensible to keep all your high performers at the expense of lower rated performers. Other factors should be considered including knowledge retention, scarcity of skillset, and the balance of exchangeable skills in the team. There are circumstances where it will be better to retain a B performer who can manage across two different roles, rather than an A performer who can excel in just one. Equally, a B performer with a rare skillset will be far harder to cover than two A performers whose skills are in ready supply. In the short run, business continuity can outweigh performance or potential.

3. Motivation Is Always Key

Everyone will remember this period in their careers far more than the easy times. We have a responsibility as leaders to play our part in keeping our workforce engaged and valued. It’s true that options beyond your walls are limited for employees now, but be careful not to succumb to complacency. It is the perfect time to show people they are valued. Not because they will remember and appreciate it later, but because it has never been more important for morale to be the caring, communicative business we aspire to be at the best of times. A succession planning process sends a clear message to your team you have not forgotten about them and their aspirations. You have long-term plans for them, regardless of the short-term challenges.

4. This Is Something You Can Accomplish Now

During any normal period, you and your staff are besieged by competing tasks related to the delivery of core responsibilities. During this time of lock down, whatever that specifically means to you, you should be experiencing some newfound space in your calendar. Yes, HR departments have mostly exchanged one set of issues for another, but a lot of work has had to stop for operational teams. Any task which can be advanced digitally has a far greater chance of getting to the top of the priority list. Planning and executing a digitally led and delivered succession planning program could be achieved in a far shorter time frame. There’s simply less noise in the background.

5. Your Succession Plan Will Help You Keep Key Talent When The Hiring Surge Begins

We are not going to be frozen forever. Right now, losing talent in a competitive hiring market is not a concern. Hiring freezes are prevalent, and the paralysis from employers is reflected by the workforce. Workers abandon all thought of a career move and seek to protect the income they have. This will not be the case when the market rebounds, and experts are suggesting a possible V-shape recession with a steep recovery. This means your key talent will likely be flooded with opportunity. It’s best if they have a clear idea of their career path with your organization when that time comes. This is ultimately the biggest advantage of proper planning – you create an organization where your top talent feels respected, valued, and makes plans to stay with you.

Whatever your immediate priorities, you should devote time to succession planning at this point. It will prepare your business for immediate threat, mitigate medium-term disruption from the returning market, and give you some of the long-term benefits proper succession planning provides.

How Prepared Is Your Organization For A Departure?

We’d love to speak with you about how your organization can be ready for a sudden departure and ensure business continuity. Reach out to us today to learn more about succession planning and the impact it can have on your talent.