Leading By Example: Succession Planning After the Pandemic

August 2021 Labour Force Update

As summer comes to a close, Canada posted job numbers fit for an optimistic fall. The nation added 90,000 jobs (+0.5%) in August, the third ... Read more
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We’re well into the “protracted” phase of pandemic recovery and for many companies it’s basically back to business as usual.

“Things are picking up already,” says Luana Fong, HR Manager at Hillcore Group. “The beginning of the year was a bit slow, but we’re more or less back up to pre-pandemic levels of activity.”

Fong handles C-suite recruitment and workforce strategy for Hillcore Group, one of Canada’s leading independent investment firms. Through the pandemic, enticing candidates to take a chance on new opportunities has been challenging, but Fong’s employee-centric approach has made a challenging hiring landscape more navigable.

Employee-Centric HR Management

Ramping back up to pre-pandemic capacity has required the careful management of personnel. Moving back to the office without diminishing employee engagement or happiness is a fine balance to strike; yet without it, staff retention can become very difficult. 

“It’s important to me that our staff feel respected and that their opinions are valued,” says Fong. “Many of our employees have been with us for many years; the level of engagement that comes with that history is invaluable. In transitioning out of the pandemic, we’ve tried to be very careful to maintain that strong relationship.”

For Fong and Hillcore, this approach has meant embracing flexibility and letting employees lead the way back to the office.

“We are hoping to return to the office, but not all of our employees are comfortable,” says Fong—a trend which grows in kind with the Delta variant’s spread. “So we’ve done surveys with the staff. We’ve found the Vancouver office is feeling quite nervous in light of Delta, but in Toronto, staff are excited to return to the office.”

“It’s critical to find that balance,” says Fong. “We ask staff what kind of flexibility they need from us and then decide if it’s possible to meet those requests.”

Centering employee experience is a powerful way to remind staff of one core truth: the company values and depends upon their commitment and expertise. This strategy has also made it easier to place new C-suite candidates and oversee reorganizations. 

Strategy in Succession Planning

Hillcore Group specializes in maximizing cash proceeds for Canadian business owners that are selling their assets or shares. When facilitating sales or acquiring new organizations, succession planning is often a central concern as the earning potential of a given company is bolstered by strong leadership. 

“When we acquire a company, Hillcore is responsible for recruiting candidates into open executive positions,” says Fong. “So necessarily, the process of finding suitable talent begins with a high level analysis of the company.”

“At the executive level, fit is a critical factor. With that in mind, we prefer to include the executives at the acquired company in the recruitment process where appropriate,” says Fong. “After initial interviews, we ensure that potential candidates meet with the present executive team—this makes it easy for all parties to appraise the company culture and candidate fit.”

This avoids the critical mistake of merely installing C-suite candidates without consulting current employees for fit. Recruiting like this—with something of an iron fist—can create resentment within the ranks of the company, altering company culture for the worse.

“It does happen that sometimes, though rarely, there is pushback,” says Fong. “It’s in everyone’s best interest to respect that resistance. In those cases, I go back to the drawing board to find a candidate who will be a better fit.”

The Value of Internal Talent

Long term employees—those with a deep understanding of company culture and goals—will be the first to say that recruiting internally is often the best way forward.

Typically, they’re right.

Unless a company is in need of a strategic restructuring, the course of succession planning should begin at home. 

“The majority of the time,” says Fong, “we prefer to keep people or promote internally. There’s no substitute for the knowledge and history they have with the company.”

“In executive search and succession planning, it’s critical to consider company stability,” Fong adds. “We don’t like to turn everything upside down. We want to make a transitionary period as smooth as possible, while fortifying the company for the future. Entrusting company leadership to people with deep organizational engagement is almost always the best way to do this.”

The pandemic caused a great deal of apprehension for many candidates. With so much uncertainty, many people opted to keep the security of their current roles even when they weren’t professionally satisfied rather than considering new opportunities. 

In these cases, promoting internally can be even more powerful. Such a strategy encourages talent retention, reinforces organizational history and knowledge, and creates a sense of stability during otherwise unstable times.

Lead With Respect

Above all, says Fong, employers shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to the needs of their current employees while succession planning. Employees that feel unheard or uncared for are unlikely to stay with a company for extended periods.

“I hope that employers are being consistent and fair to their employees,” says Fong. “Leadership must be exemplifying collegial respect. It’s been a difficult time for everyone.”

“Creating a culture founded on respect not only facilitates long term employee retention, it’s also felt by prospective candidates,” adds Fong. “It’s not something that can be faked. But when that engaged, respectful company culture comes through, it’s always easier to attract high quality C-suite talent.”

Cited Sources
1 Personal Communication between Rose Agency and Luana Fong, August 2021.