May 20, 2020

Succession Planning during a Pandemic

Josh Gentine

The rules of the C-suite are being rewritten under the pressure of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is especially evident as corporate leadership is grappling with internal succession planning.

There are some basic preventative measures that are likely already being implemented, such as revised sick leave and remote work policies. Most boards will already have an emergency succession plan in place, but we are living in unprecedented times where more than one person may be sick or otherwise compromised at a time. It is important to prepare for the possibility that the emergency successor is also unable to fulfill the duties of a suddenly vacant position.

Without a plan for this kind of sudden and unexpected succession, the negative impact can easily multiply . In a time of crisis, high anxiety, and fear, having a well-structured, easy-to-follow plan already in place will prevent that catastrophic loss. It may seem daunting, but I have a few ideas on how to make a potential transition easier and more successful.

Identify needs.

Who has the expertise and experience to step into a new leadership role? Is there, perhaps, a pivot to a new kind of production to help with the crisis? The organizational needs that have sprung up in light of this crisis may be different than previous ones. But there are people out there – or already working within the company – that have the skills and fortitude to take up the mantel. Tap the people who can step into a position immediately if someone is out sick or caring for a loved one. Keep the broader needs and mission of the organization in mind as well as these brand-new ones. This will ensure that the emergency succession plan is in alignment with the overall strategic plan.

Consider hiring virtually.

I’ve mentioned in several articles previously the vitality of technology and it certainly applies here, as well. It’s an unusual move – but virtual interviews could be a perfect fit. It may not be quite the same as getting to know someone in person but being able to observe body language and hear tone of voice through a video conference will provide a great sense of who the potential team member is. As the work landscape continues to shift in the coming months, virtual interviews may become an integral part of the hiring process.

Communicate the plan.

Things are changing quickly, sometimes with no notice whatsoever. It is a difficult job to have to communicate the plan when so much is uncertain, especially when it is as significant as succession. Armed with a great plan, though, communication is sure to be easier. If each of the key personnel has a thorough understanding of next steps, they will be prepared to step up, if and when the time arrives. Communication builds trust and empowers individuals to do their best work.

There is no road map for how to proceed in this unique, intense moment and it is truly the challenge of a lifetime. Contact me for help with the creation and implementation of your organization’s succession plan. I’m here for you.

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