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It Is Time To Rethink Your Emergency Succession Plan

The COVID-19 pandemic has reared an overwhelming amount of unprecedented challenges for business. As the world moves toward a new normal, whatever that may be, the onus is on every executive team to rethink traditional processes to fit into a changed world — and do this as the change is happening. As well, as Black Lives Matter and racial inequality protests continue to simmer in cities across this country, a goal of the movement is to leave its mark on business and the economy. This includes rethinking who will fill executive seats in organizations of the future. Paying lip service to diversity is no longer enough.

And thus, one very real and present issue is that of emergency succession planning. Businesses right now face the possibility of one or more senior-level executives coming down with the COVID-19 virus, a reason for an emergency succession plan on its own. But the change movement happening will require that organizations quickly (yet thoughtfully) create future leadership teams with more varied viewpoints. This pandemic + protest approach to planning is challenging but in fact, can be a catalyst for positive change if approached in the right way. Boards and senior leaders have the opportunity right now to create new best practices for organizations that should expect to encounter volatility — and necessary change — for years to come. 

Suggestions on how to approach planning:

Rethink interim successors. Boards historically have prioritized continuity when choosing a successor, one who can ease the minds of investors (for public companies), customers, and employees when it comes to running the company. But today's crises may require an additional set of skills: someone who has a strong understanding of the organization's culture and can calm frayed nerves; a highly effective communicator; an authentic leader with the strength to lead under pressure. Think beyond the usual suspects. 

Address leadership continuity and inequality at the same time: The designation of new and diverse voices on executive teams has always been important but now more than ever. This necessary step can be addressed by selecting high potentials in the organization to see who can rise to the top. For emergency successors ensure there is knowledge sharing from successor to designee but also for their development. This person should also be allowed in discussions that deal with the organization's longer term strategic agenda. In the future, this person will choose his or her own successor and continue to evolve the composition of the leadership team (the domino effect).

Engage Human Resources: An important responsibility of HR leadership is to help drive emergency succession planning for the organization. HR will be critical in immediate transition planning while also taking a long term view on a diversity and inclusion strategy. HR also can help with contingency planning for additional leadership roles, identifying overlooked talent as potential future executives for the organization. HR should be considered a thought partner with the board in times of change and can advocate for a best practice approach. 

Put the plan on paper: Despite rolling changes, interim and future successors should have specific, understood responsibilities. An action plan that can be implemented in times of emergency will help to smooth transitions between leaders. The plan should include what needs to happen in case of an emergency, who is responsible for those activities, and how to communicate changes to key stakeholders. An emergency succession plan should be a living, breathing document that can evolve alongside context changes and when new information emerges. Learnings during these times of crisis, such as holes in communication or confusion over responsibilities, can then be added to longer term plans to ensure seamless leadership transitions in the future. 

Communicate more: Empathy in communication to fellow members of the leadership team (and to the wider staff) can make the difference between success or failure. Greater transparency and increased communication are highly valuable in times of great change. 

Change is constant these days. Planning and flexibility must be combined to achieve success for today's businesses. There is no elixir to our current challenges but we can affect the right kinds of change while in times of uncertainty.

Source : Forbes 

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