Succession Planning for Business Continuity
By Debra Walker
COVID-19 has drawn a pretty clear picture for all of us that life can change fundamentally overnight. One day it is business as usual and then the apple cart is flipped, and life will never really be the same. This pandemic is just one crisis in what most businesses experience in a long chain of emergencies. But what a doozy it was – magnified by us all experiencing it at the same time. The current situation has definitely highlighted the need for effective succession planning and overall emergency preparedness for business continuity.
Organizations of all sizes have been impacted by physical location changes, resignations, restructuring due to finances as well as workload and business activities, illness, and even unforeseen deaths. In many instances, it was more than one of those disruptions at the same time. It has left businesses, and the individuals within them, shell shocked and reeling with the magnitude and scope of change.
Not having an effective emergency preparedness plan which encompasses succession planning can have impacts on:
- Company’s ongoing operations
- Employee morale (which is already significantly at risk)
- Overall short-term stability, which can bleed into long term viability
Mitigating the Risks
Having a well-developed organizational emergency succession plan is one way of alleviating the stresses that come with the unforeseen. It is important at this stage to emphasize that this is not a plan that is for C-suite positions only but in mapping all future leaders in mission and operation critical roles.
The health crisis has also assisted in illustrating that, in addition to ensuring that the appropriate depth of planning is done across and throughout the organization, it is important that the planning is more than a superficial, ‘once a year’ exercise but rather one that is considered an “evergreen” approach. That is, examining succession planning as an ongoing, regular board or management team agenda item in the area of risk management and not housed as an HR exercise.
Building a Comprehensive Succession Plan
When looking at whether your succession plan is going to meet your needs in the unpredictable future, the activities associated with your strategy should include:
- Identifying critical position(s) to the company
- Identifying potential triggering events e.g. health crisis, environmental events, resignations, unexpected absences for undetermined periods of times, etc.
- Specifying the key skills and competencies required for each critical role.
- Create multiple succession plans for each critical role (both possible interim and permanent candidates).
- Reviewing at least two levels down i.e. identifying the “successor’s successor” and preferably at least two potential candidates for each level. (That is not always possible with smaller organizations and even sometimes with larger ones, so don’t feel a need to fill a name in if there is no one internally that meets the key criteria you are looking for in a role. Identifying that you have a skill / talent gap is part of developing the plan.)
- Look also at those that can fill a role temporarily and not merely from a permanent replacement perspective.
- Identify those roles that may be shared / combined at least on an interim basis or in the event of multiple vacancies happening concurrently.
- Regularly review and refresh each team’s succession plan.
- Potential candidates can be identified for more than one role.
- Tracking potential external candidates should your internal talent not be available and/or ready including: off-site, contingent, gig talent, retirees.
- Potential internal and external communications as part of the emergency plan and in ensuring a smooth flow of information.
- Centralized system in place to allow for fluid transfer of information and communication.
- Technological infrastructure and capabilities for “shelter in place” policies and restrictions on physical attendance/mobility.
Tips for Successfully Managing Succession Planning
A recent McKinsey survey showed that in highly complex occupations, high performers are an awe inspiring 800% more productive than lower performers. (Source: Attracting and Retaining the Right Talent: www.mckinsey.com) This is talent that we don’t want to lose so to follow are some tips for effectively managing your succession planning:
- Help the candidates shepherd their energy and maximize their strengths by focusing their efforts on the right objectives all while prioritizing their wellbeing.
- Probe for barriers that stall productivity or cause unnecessary stress, providing ready access to coaching and advice.
- Help them see how their role contributes to the company mission and fits in with the bigger picture.
- Keep their aspirations in mind. It’s not just about focusing on what you need from them but what they need / want from the organization, their growth and how it all aligns.
- Encourage them to think outside the box for problem solving and don’t punish failure. Rather coach for growth and learning, especially during this time of high unpredictability. Create an environment of psychological safety.
- Challenge to think differently, abandon fixed mindsets and preconceived notions. “It’s what we’ve always done” just will not work anymore.
- Do not have this as an HR-owned initiative or “fill in the form” exercise. Future leaders identified early and supported throughout will help define what / how business continues and thrives.
- Reward and recognize leaders who develop resilient and agile teams and plans.
- Make this a core value as well as a core competency.
An effective succession planning program can help you continue and develop into building for a stronger “normal” than the one the pandemic disrupted. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to help your company thrive.