hand at computer UN003

Are You Thinking Differently About Your Leadership Pipeline Post-Pandemic? You Probably Should.

Read 3 best practices to prepare your succession planning activities and better your leadership pipeline post-pandemic.

Succession planning and leadership development are two of any organization’s most important HR functions. Organizations that fail to prepare the next generation of leaders put their stability in jeopardy through the risk of leaving critical leadership positions vacant for extended periods of time when a leader shifts roles, retires or departs. During a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, these functions become even more important: there is a real possibility that a critical leader may not be up to the challenge, might burnout, or even become ill. However, that during times of uncertainty and crisis, organizations tend to halt all business functions they consider to be non-essential (because of lack of funding, lack of time, etc.), and succession planning and development often fall into this category.

As the world begins to emerge into a post-pandemic economy, this new chapter in our history affords organizations the ability to reflect on their current succession and development processes. Here we will discuss three best practices for organizations preparing to resume or engage in their next round of succession planning activities:

  1. Using systems that increase data visibility,
  2. Measuring skills required for the next generation of leaders, and
  3. Understanding how the operating environment impacts a leader’s ability to succeed.

Use Systems to Increase Data Visibility

Many organizations use succession planning software to rate leaders on a 9-box and house information about leader performance, potential, and aspiration. While you are not required to have a dedicated software, to collect good data and understand your current leadership pipeline, it is essential to have a system in place that is implemented consistently across the organization. Without standard documentation and processes, you end up with incomplete data or information that cannot be calibrated and compared across the organization. The consequence for the organization is an inability to understand who has the potential to take on the next role and how to support the growth of leaders. The consequence for your leaders is a lack of understanding about their current level of performance and potential and where they must grow to get to the next stage. As you consider ways to improve your succession planning system, consider these best practices:

  • Implement one set of operational definitions for performance, potential, and aspiration. If your organization uses different definitions across functions today, bring stakeholders together to create a common language. This will increase stakeholder buy-in and minimize resistance to change.
  • Deploy succession planning generally simultaneously across the organization. This may require some flexibility depending on different busy seasons for different groups but will simplify the process and minimize the business impact.
  • Implement the same tools (assessments, development plans, etc.) for leaders across functions. While your tools may require leveling, using the same tools across the business will help create common language and visibility into talent across the organization.
  • Engage in continuous improvement. It can often take more than one cycle to implement a standard system. Audit and lightly tweak overtime to keep your system up to current best practices. This minimizes the need for an overhaul a few years down the road.

Organizations waste millions of dollars on inefficient systems, poor hiring decisions, replacing outdated systems, and change management. Shifting your system to align with the best practices above is a major step in shifting a succession program from a money pit to having a huge ROI.

Organizations waste millions of dollars on inefficient systems, poor hiring decisions, replacing outdated systems, and change management.

Measure skills required for the next generation of leaders.

Organizations have been shifting their leadership competency models to align with transformational and servant leadership qualities for some time. However, the pandemic uniquely highlighted the leadership qualities required to lead and maintain stability during times of uncertainty and crisis. As you consider which qualities to measure and develop with your precious time and resources, consider the role of each of these competencies, especially for your high potential and senior leaders:

  • Resilience: The ability to push through difficult situations with a clear mind, bounce back after failure, overcome challenges, is crucial in times of uncertainty. Although this is a difficult skill to develop and is most often developed over time through experience, leaders can gain the self-awareness required and learn adaptation techniques to grow their ability to be resilient.
  • Empathy: The ability to understand others’ feelings and show empathy during a crisis has been rated as one of the most important leadership qualities by experts around the world. However, leaders should not seek to take the place of mental health counselors. Great leaders must learn to sense the needs of their team members and understand the resources at their fingertips (leave, flexible scheduling, employee assistance programs, etc.). Some leaders will find this balance natural, and some may need to surround themselves with trusted advisors and mentors to grow into this skill over time.
  • Communication: This includes sharing information broadly, creating streamlined channels of communication, keeping the message simple, communicating frequently, and reinforcing and repeating information through multiple outlets and sources. As leaders, we often think we have stated a point to death, but only after hearing the message repeatedly and tying it into an outcome someone cares about, then the message will finally sink in.
  • Candor: As Brené Brown preaches, clear is kind. Building on the importance of streamlined, simple, and frequent communication, leaders must be able to speak with transparency and clarity. Speaking the truth, even when the answer is difficult or when the answer is that you do not know, is an important tool to building trust-based cultures and battling cynicism, anxiety, and confusion.
  • Humility/Vulnerability: People trust more quickly those whom they feel are approachable, and two key qualities of approachability are humility and vulnerability. Humble leaders know how to check their ego, admit mistakes, and learn from others—including those in less senior positions. Vulnerable leaders have the added ability to leave themselves open to receiving critical feedback, keep an open mind, and resist becoming defensive.
  • Active listening: Leaders often feel pressure to control the conversation or provide guidance because after all, they are ultimately the ones in charge. Especially in times of uncertainly, though, the best insights and decisions are reached through listening to others. As the field of emotional intelligence teaches us, three vital questions we should all ask ourselves are:
  1. Does this need to be said?
  2. Does this need to be said by me?
  3. Does this need to be said right now?

While this list is certainly not an exhaustive list, this list contains some of the most crucial leadership traits for your organization to consider as part of your leadership development efforts for a post-pandemic workplace.

Humble leaders know how to check their ego, admit mistakes, and learn from others—including those in less senior positions.

Measure and develop to your specific context

Most organizations approach leadership development from an individual perspective: they create a competency model (much like the one outlined above), measure leaders against that model, and create plans to help leaders fill in the gaps. This is absolutely the right place to start. However, research shows that nearly half of leaders (46%) fail to meet their objectives in their first six months in a new role. So, what can organizations do to increase the odds of leader success in their next role?

The most agile organizations go beyond competency models and align talent to specific job challenges or contexts. In fact, when leaders have experience and competence aligned to the challenges required for a specific role, they are 4x more likely to be strong performers.

While competencies have the ability to help organizations understand who their high potential are for a wide variety of leadership roles, context helps them understand how to slate leaders for specific roles and create targeted development to best prepare for what is next. From an organizational perspective, this allows organizations to target the right leaders for the right roles and also improves their ability to identify talent gaps. From a leader experience perspective, this creates more clarity around development planning and future opportunities. Finally, research shows this competence plus context approach brings an extra level of objectivity to succession processes that results in increased leadership diversity.

With a standardized succession planning system, you collect better data to understand your current talent pool and gaps. Then, measuring and developing the right leadership skills overall ensures you are developing and promoting the kinds of leaders that are most likely to engage your workforce and can lead during times of uncertainty and crisis. Layering on context gives your organization the additive power to slate and grow leaders to best prepare for specific next steps, increasing the likelihood of placement success, and improving your leadership diversity.

 To learn more about how to improve your succession planning strategy post-pandemic, contact us today.

headshot erin crask


Erin Lazarus

Erin Lazarus is a people science enthusiast and Industrial-Organizational Psychology leader focused on building teams that provide the opportunity for every person to work at their highest point of contribution. She leads teams to design powerful candidate and employee experiences that allow organizations to harness the power of their people. Her teams partner with business leaders using science and data to enhance people strategy in areas including employee selection, workplace assessment, organizational culture, employee engagement, performance management, succession planning, and leadership development. At SHL, Erin consults with clients to transform productivity through deeper people insight.

Explore SHL’s Wide Range of Solutions

With our platform of pre-configured talent acquisition and talent management solutions, maximize the potential of your company’s greatest asset—your people.

See Our Solutions