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Succession Planning & Development


June 16, 2020

Read Time

3 minutes


The impact of COVID-19 has prompted many organizations to re-evaluate their strategy and business model. These changes, coupled with the uncertainty of the current economic climate, are also leading to shifts in the leadership competencies necessary for future success. Leadership skills have been tested with some leaders rising to the challenge and others falling short of expectations.

Coupled with the changing leadership needs, Boards and CEOs are taking a critical look at succession planning processes. In the last few months, many have found their current succession plans lack depth or are out of date, potentially increasing the organization’s vulnerabilities. Surprisingly, 20 percent of publicly traded companies and a third of privately held companies acknowledge they do not have a viable succession plan.

For organizations that need to re-evaluate, Angie Sebastian, CEO of Levenfeld Pearlstein, advises that “Now is a good opportunity for succession planning. You can see who the leaders are and who is stepping in, even without titles.” She encourages her clients to utilize this time to begin the succession planning and development process.

Specifically, this is an opportunity to:

  1. Recognize what has changed
  2. Align changes within the succession planning process
  3. Accelerate leader development

Recognize what has changed

Changes to the business strategy may necessitate changes in workforce composition. Boards and senior management teams are now addressing:

  • How has our strategy changed?
  • What does the business model look like in recovery?
  • How do the leadership competencies need to change to reflect the strategy?
  • What are the future talent requirements?
  • What are the current capabilities?
  • Where are the gaps?

For example, a financial services firm has found that its customers are driving the need for increased digital expertise. In this scenario, leaders who cannot adapt to the new pace, manage change, or struggle with technology, will not survive as leaders. Instead, new competencies will be needed including adaptability, quick decision making, and resilience.

Align changes within the succession planning process

Although the economic outlook continues to change, scenario planning, and understanding your succession needs will establish the foundation for rebuilding your organization. Take an honest look at how the evolving organizational structure aligns with your current succession strategy and approach.

It will also minimize transition risks by ensuring systematic planning and development of key leaders who are ready to advance into critical roles.

Accelerate Leader Development

Now is the time to accelerate development, not pull back.

While every organization is different, we are seeing similar themes in the competences that are gaining importance. These include adaptability, resilience, collaboration, risk tolerant, managing ambiguity & complexity, change management, learning agility, vision, and motivation.

Recognize and communicate how the strategy will impact critical competencies and the talent requirements. Identify opportunities (i.e. competency development, education, on-the-job experiences, new assignments) to develop and retain those in the leadership pipeline.

At LP, Ms. Sebastian is pressing senior leaders to include emerging leaders in the rapid-fire and significant decisions required in our current challenging environment. Many emerging leaders have not had previous experience leading through a crisis. There is an opportunity for on-the-job leadership development training, and the opportunity should not be wasted. This is not a case study — this is the real deal. Veteran leaders are accustomed to making difficult decisions under pressure but should pause to consider who else in the organization could be learning how to do so. There is a safety net of the experienced leader and the fresh and curious questions of the emerging leader, a win-win situation.

“Don’t waste this opportunity to accelerate development. We are given the gift of time and need to use it well.”

Lisa Sprenkle-Jones partners with organizations from nonprofits to global Fortune 100 companies in the areas of succession planning, multi-source feedback, team effectiveness, talent assessment, and competency development. She believes high performance with everyone moving in the right direction, engaging employees with purpose and building competence at the individual, team and organizational level.

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