How the Great Resignation Highlighted the Need for Effective Succession Planning
March 16, 2022
Every day, thousands of Americans contemplate leaving their jobs for all sorts of reasons: work-life balance, long commute, low pay or poor benefits. We’ve all been there! But until recently, the hassle and risk of changing jobs deterred most from acting on this impulse. This gave employers a false sense of workforce stability and allowed them to maintain relatively static salary, benefits and flexibility without the fear of mass exodus.
The Great Resignation
That all changed with the onset of the pandemic in 2020. In order to attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, businesses were forced to either close or find ways to operate with a remote workforce. Many people lost their jobs. For many others, remote work became a new way of life. Without the necessity of daily commuting, some fled the cities, realizing that they could live more economically in other states without changing jobs. This trend continued until late 2021, when loosening restrictions encouraged businesses to recall their employees to the office in hopes of reestablishing the status quo.
People who had lost their jobs, changed careers or moved their families had time to reevaluate their priorities and gain a new perspective on work-life balance.
Over the intervening months, however, many employees had begun to enjoy the flexibility of remote work and the hours saved without a daily commute. People who had lost their jobs, changed careers or moved their families had time to reevaluate their priorities and gain a new perspective on work-life balance. For many, returning to the office felt like a step backwards. With public health restrictions still dominating the workplace, the prospect was frightening to some and frustrating to others. Increasingly, it was a deal-breaker.
This confluence of factors caused a shift in power from employers to employees and led to what Texas A&M associate professor Anthony Klotz has termed “the Great Resignation”. According to Klotz, four trends unique to the pandemic led to this phenomenon: “a backlog of resignations due to the pandemic’s uncertainty, a high level of burnout among workers, a term called ‘pandemic epiphanies,’ and companies restructuring their work schedules whether it be fully remote, in-person or a hybrid model”.1
These trends led to workers leaving their jobs in record numbers (4 million during April 2021 and 4.5 million in November 2021). With these record numbers in mind, many companies have taken a fresh look at the processes and procedures they have in place around succession planning. The remainder of this article will highlight some best practices for succession planning and the results of our recent member survey.
The Benefits of Effective Succession Planning
The Great Resignation has accentuated the importance of ensuring your university or department has an effective succession plan in place long before a successor is actually needed. The main benefit of succession planning is the reduction of risks associated with turnover of individuals in critical roles. However, a well-orchestrated succession plan may also provide additional benefits, such as creating new career paths for staff, providing additional professional development opportunities and broadening the diversity of employees with the capability to fulfill critical responsibilities.2 While these benefits are clearly valuable, many institutions may be left wondering where to start. Our next section will highlight some best practices for constructing an effective succession plan for your college or university.
The Great Resignation has accentuated the importance of ensuring your university or department has an effective succession plan in place long before a successor is actually needed.
5 Steps to Construct an Effective Succession Plan
- Identify Critical Roles—Creating a succession plan for every role in your university would be inefficient and likely impossible. Therefore, the first step to creating an effective succession plan is working with management to identify critical roles within your institution or department. Critical roles can be defined in two ways: a role that would cause the most risk to your organization if left unoccupied, or a position that you know will be vacant soon (whether due to pending promotion or retirement).
- Pinpoint Key Skills and Create Core Competency Profiles—Once you have identified the critical roles for your institution or department, work with the individuals in these roles to determine the key skills and core competencies needed to be successful in the position. Create core competency profile documentation that can be retained and adjusted in the future as necessary.
- Assess Possible Successors Using the Competency Profiles—After identifying the core competencies needed for the position’s successor, meet with your employees individually and assess their abilities and their desire to move up in the company. This will illustrate what skillsets your employees already have and which of them may be ready to handle more responsibility. Once you have identified possible successors, compare their abilities against the critical role core competency profiles you created in Step 2.
- Identify Knowledge Gaps and Create Performance Development Plans—When you have identified potential successors and compared them to the core competency profiles, document any knowledge gaps that will require additional training. Next, sit down with the employees and map out a performance development plan to help them understand the career growth needed to become a qualified successor. Ensure the development plan includes a training schedule and multiple check-in points to assess progress and proficiencies. This process can also boost employee morale by defining a path toward career growth.
- Review the Existing Process and Make Necessary Adjustments—As with any procedure, it is important to review your succession plan regularly to identify and correct errors or omissions. Once successors have been in their new roles for a few months, meet with them to evaluate what worked and what could have been done better. Use this feedback to adjust your succession planning procedures to ensure continuous improvement and effectiveness in the future.
With the Great Resignation highlighting the need for effective succession planning, we polled the ACUA community for insight into their succession planning efforts and received responses from 21 institutions. Of these, 62% came from individuals working at institutions with less than 10,000 employees (faculty and staff), while another 20% were from institutions of more than 30,000 faculty and staff. The remaining 18% were submitted by mid-size institutions with between 10,000 and 30,000 employees. Over 76% of respondents worked for public universities, while two thirds of respondents worked for a four-year college or university.
We began by asking survey participants to assess the risk that turnover, resignation and retirement present for their organizations on a scale of 1-5, with five being extremely high risk. An overwhelming majority (90%) of respondents believe that turnover poses either a high or an extremely high risk to their institutions. These responses underscore the need for effective succession planning and demonstrate the value that internal audit departments can add by assisting management in assessing and implementing succession planning practices.
We also asked to what extent our respondents’ colleges and universities currently prioritize succession planning activities.
Including senior leadership in these discussions can help to highlight the importance of succession planning and identify opportunities for audit to assist in the process.
While only one respondent indicated that succession planning was already a high-priority at their institution, the shifting landscape created by the COVID pandemic and the Great Resignation has clearly prompted our community to begin thinking about this topic. More than two thirds of our respondents indicated that they are already talking about or actively taking steps toward creating more robust succession plans. Including senior leadership in these discussions can help to highlight the importance of succession planning and identify opportunities for audit to assist in the process.
We also asked our survey respondents which position tiers are evaluated for succession planning purposes at their institutions.
The majority of institutions with succession plans already in place include their President and C-level executives in these assessments, and a significant number also included deans, senior faculty and other leadership positions. However, only 57% of survey respondents indicated that their institutions have succession plans in place for any of the positions listed. In the aftermath of the Great Resignation and the pandemic, we expect that an increasing number of our members will turn their attention towards implementing succession planning across their critical roles, and this percentage will likely increase throughout 2022.
Finally, we asked respondents how far they had progressed through the 5 steps of succession planning. This enabled us to get a feel for the maturity level of their succession planning efforts.
Given the upheaval of the last few years, it is not surprising that many respondents have not progressed beyond the process of identifying critical roles. However, this presents a unique opportunity for internal auditors to provide assistance in assessing and controlling this emerging risk area.
Although the Great Resignation has prompted many organizations to consider strategies for employee retention, we are still in the midst of a sea change in the way that employers and employees approach work. Your institution may already perform some succession planning activities, but this is the perfect time to re-evaluate and expand these efforts. Effective succession planning will decrease the risks associated with turnover and help to ensure smooth sailing for your institution, whatever the future holds!
1A&M professor who predicted ‘Great Resignation’ explains potential factors of why theory came true | Texas A&M | theeagle.com
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