Why COVID-19 Has Accelerated Everyone's Succession Plan


If there is one thing about 2020 that is true for everyone, it is that plans have changed, and people are exhausted. All the change that happened this past year has caused people to become increasingly stressed by the uncertainty, while also having more time than ever to think through the future.

This combination has led many people to decide it's time to make major changes in their lives. As you navigate retaining staff through this challenging time, set your organization up for success with a strong succession plan for when transition comes.

2020 reminded us that while we may not be in control of our circumstances, God calls upon us to steward our resources and gifts well. While we can't always prepare for what's next, we can make plans to better ensure that the future of our churches and organizations are in good hands. One way to achieve this is through thorough succession planning. No matter how far away transition seems, it's never too early to begin preparing and planning for your organization's next step.

Many leaders who were planning to retire in 4 or 5 years are now ready to step down from their leadership positions early. There are several reasons why this is happening. As a leader at your church, it's essential to understand what your senior staff might be facing and how to prepare for the next season should you face an upcoming succession.

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1. The pandemic has worn them out. COVID-19 has required people to work harder and adapt to change at a rapid pace. While many people have a strong work ethic and enjoy hard work and change, the duration of these trying circumstances has lasted longer than most are capable of handling. This season has been exhausting for many. Specifically, this has been difficult for leaders who have had to make tough decisions about what is best for their organizations and those they serve. They're having to consider decisions impacting their staff's finances, health and safety and work-life balance. Additionally, leaders are managing people who are worn out, afraid and lonely, creating more of an emotional toll. For a large number of leaders approaching retirement, they are ready to get to an early start and step down from the stress of their leadership positions.

2. The ministry they once knew looks different now. Life looks different now than it did last year. Many people's job duties and responsibilities have changed and the ministry they serve looks entirely different now. Individuals are noting that they just don't have the same desire to serve in certain capacities that they once did. Dissatisfaction in their current job environment is pushing many to step away. People also know that a "return to normal" is unlikely. Now that we've introduced certain technologies, it will be difficult to stop utilizing them. Knowing business-as-usual will look different forever is causing many people to question if they still have what it takes to keep up with today's demands and norms.

3. They do not feel qualified or have a desire to keep up with new technologies. Even for individuals who are still passionate about their specific ministry, their job duties look so different that they no longer feel qualified to do their jobs. Individuals who don't enjoy keeping up with or learning new technology may want to continue to serve their organization but in different roles. Many approaching their retirement simply don't see the point in learning new technology when they're close to leaving. Roles moving from in-person to online positions are also leading many people to consider finding a new opportunity or retiring altogether. Especially after such a challenging year, people don't have the energy or passion to try new things.

Is It Time to Transition?

If you are a leader considering early succession, don't quit out of exhaustion just yet. Just like the pandemic shifted our lives in an instant, things will change again, and you may experience a renewed passion for your ministry.

However, if you are close to retirement and financially prepared, consider what succession would look like in your organization and start working on a plan now.

How Can I Prepare for Succession?

Whether or not you or your senior leadership has considered a transition, it is never too early to start having succession conversations. Transition is a natural part of working, and planning for this time will help both you and your organization succeed more easily. Here are 3 practical steps you can take now to start preparing for succession:

— Talk with your staff about what succession might look like, a possible timeline and the characteristics your next successor should possess to ensure your team is prepared for your departure.

— Read resources such as Next: Pastoral Succession That Works, Expanded and Updated to see examples of successions that have worked and some that haven't.

— Speak to people who can help you find the best successor for your organization, so you can leave knowing your organization is in good hands.

Every leader is an interim leader; therefore, everyone should take time to begin thinking about succession. At Vanderbloemen, we are passionate about staffing the church. We want to help you create a succession plan that works, whether your succession is 10 months or 10 years down the road. Reach out to us today, and let us know how we can help you and your organization prepare for what's next and steward your resources and responsibility well.

William Vanderbloemen is the CEO and founder of Vanderbloemen, which serves teams with a greater purpose by aligning their people solutions for growth: hiring, compensation, succession and culture. Through its retained executive search and consulting services, Vanderbloemen serves churches, schools, nonprofits, family offices and Christian businesses in all parts of the United States and internationally. Follow him on Twitter @wvanderbloemen.

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