COVID-19’s Role in the Future of Succession Planning

The Coronavirus pandemic is impacting the way that companies hire from within their organizations.

Nearly nine in 10 companies plan to hire back employees within the next year, despite being in a current hiring freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly nine in 10 companies plan to hire back employees within the next year, despite being in a current hiring freeze due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Antonioguillem - Adobe Stock -

When the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic first began in March, many faced economic uncertainties, as companies were forced to lay off or furlough their workforce. With no particular end in sight, the U.S. unemployment rate has plummeted to 10.2%, but there are still positions that need to be filled.

According to a survey conducted by the Adecco Group, nearly 70% of businesses that have furloughed or laid off employees during the pandemic will back-fill roles previously eliminated. While 40% of respondents are currently going through hiring freezes, nearly nine in 10 plan to re-hire roles in less than a year.

In the same survey, 45% of respondents indicate that their organization is upskilling current employees, followed by 35% reskilling current employees to be redeployed to other areas within the company.

As the pandemic continues, succession planning within organizations is only going to become more popular.

“The talent challenges we often hear from our clients are focused on an impending retirement boom, a seeming decrease in employee intent to stay or loyalty to a company and a bench of talent that does meet their current or future capability needs. Most of these challenges are rooted in succession planning and management practices, and many supply chain leaders are waking up to this fact,” says Caroline Chumakov, principal analyst, Gartner Supply Chain Practice.

“More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed supply chain leaders to realize that not all critical roles are strategic in nature. There is another category of critical roles—roles that are critical to the success of essential workflows. The employees in these roles often do not have critical or scarce skills, but if these roles are not staffed and fully enabled, critical workflows can grind to a halt. For example, this might include roles in manufacturing or logistics,” she continues.

There are several benefits for organizations to use succession planning, Chumakov suggests. For instance, there’s a shortened cycle time in filling critical vacant roles and reduced lapse in business performance due to transitions. This can also help mitigate the risk involved when it comes to transition periods, as it can improve the likelihood of meeting business performance targets post-hiring.

4 common types of leadership transitions

According to Chumkavo, there are four common types of leadership transitions.

  • Replacing an icon. Transition activities will first be focused on building relationships that will help build support for the successor’s agenda. 
  • Following poor leadership. Initial focus areas will be on creating a clear vision for the organization and forging new relationships and repairing those damaged by past under-performance.
  • Rebuilding. Successful leaders focus on understanding the industry, organization and dynamics of their new team, while using existing networks and teams to socialize and drive change
  • Breaking ground (a newly created or rebranded role). Transition activities will be focused first on clearly defining the responsibilities and objectives of the role and gaining better understanding of the stakeholder universe.

In order to ensure a successful transition, companies may focus on targeted development for successors. This requires support to new leaders by creating individual developmental plans that help guide them in learning experiences, such as interventions that are experiential, social or forma in nature. Chumakov suggests that these plans be reviewed and reflected upon on a quarterly basis.

However, there can be negative impacts that come from succession planning if not maintained properly.

“There are risks associated with a poorly executed succession planning process. We might plan a strategic succession based on predecessor traits or capabilities, without much mind to what leadership capabilities might be required for the future,” says Chumakov. “There is also unconscious bias that can creep into our succession planning processes if not properly checked; this can lead to unsavory diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes. We might also be at risk if we fail to view critical roles and their potential successors at a portfolio level. This may mean that we neglect to deploy or align talent more strategically across the organization to achieve maximum business impact.”

Regardless, leadership transitions will have change management implications, as they can leave employees wondering how it will impact their role and the work they do. When succession planning, employers must be able to answer the following questions:

  • What new initiatives might this leader introduce?
  • How can employees deliver on this new leader’s expectations and goals?
  • Could this change pose a risk in terms of potential career development and aspirations?

“Improving the experience of change through leadership transition requires us to tailor our approach to the type of leadership transitions, provide greater transparency to our succession management processes and better prepare successors for the roles that they take over,” says Chumakov.

Still, effective succession planning heavily depends on preparing successors for future roles. With supply chain employees continuing to work remotely for the near future, there will be new challenges associated with succession planning given the need to learn and develop in a virtual environment.

“The pandemic has opened our eyes to new types of critical roles—ones that are not necessarily strategic in nature. So, while our succession management efforts have typically focused on preparing for vacancies in senior leadership positions, supply chain leaders will need to expand beyond this focus to develop succession plans for critical workflow roles,” says Chumakov.