Succession Planning in a Post-COVID World

Before the pandemic, succession planning was often seen as one of those important but not quite urgent activities that HR professionals knew they should be doing. Or perhaps organizations would invest in developing a plan, but they’d only focus on a handful of prominent executive leadership roles. Over the past year, it has become clear that such limited approaches weren’t enough.

“You have all kinds of risk management functions at your organization, so why would we not have a risk management function for talent?” asks Doris Sims Spies, SPHR, founder of Talent Benchstrength Solutions LLC. “I don't think we should ever take talent for granted, no matter what the economic situation.”

Here’s how to maintain succession planning and business continuity during an uncertain world after COVID-19.

Invest in Managing Internal Talent

The first step in succession planning, especially in volatile times, is to develop a system for tracking internal talent, just as you do for external candidates. Internal candidates often have backgrounds and experiences that could bring value to your organization, Spies says. But without a system for tracking those experiences, you may be overlooking strong internal candidates. With so much uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to know what your talent resources are.

There is technology out there to support succession planning, but fully evaluate what your current tech stack (including your applicant-tracking system) can do before jumping to something new. “We need to ensure we are utilizing technology to the fullest extent to see if it meets our requirements,” says Tim Sackett, SPHR, president of HRU Technical Resources and author of The Talent Fix. “Often, organizations will say they need additional technology for succession planning when they are only using a fraction of their current capabilities.” Your executives don’t always understand your tech stack’s full capabilities, so it’s incumbent on HR leaders to learn how to make the most of what you do have.

Consider and Plan for Likely Scenarios

COVID-19 forced many organizations to revisit many of their previous projections about how resilient they would be in a crisis, including their succession plans. “The leaders who are most adaptable during this time will find the most success, as COVID has shown us how fragile the plans of people can be,” Sackett says. Incorporate adaptability into your process through emergency planning. 

Frequently take stock of potential future scenarios that could affect your workforce succession planning, such as loss of institutional knowledge when a key player retires early. “We’ve learned from this that we need to be ready to turn on a dime,” Spies says. Your workforce could be subject to accelerated structural changes, too. You might move some roles virtually for the long term, for example, which allows you to tap into internal talent that previously was geographically barred.

Shifting Toward Long-Term Virtual Talent Management

COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to remote work, and, as a result, many companies are still developing their long-term in-person, remote or hybrid processes. No matter where your organization lands, it’s a good idea to establish infrastructure for remote talent management and development. As you move forward with your talent management meetings, work as a group to measure your remote capacities. Do you have channels that can accommodate virtual coaching? Does your current tech stack support 360-degree feedback, and do all parties have access to it?

Keep in mind that your talent management meetings will probably go virtual, too. Have someone take notes in a shared format, Spies suggests, so that all attendees can see them in real-time. Something as simple as Google Docs can increase transparency and accountability, making your succession planning meetings more collaborative