How to manage succession planning in a talent crisis

Sun River Health's CHRO on how his talent management pipelines are his proudest achievement

How to manage succession planning in a talent crisis

After a spate of leadership departures this year, HR leaders are undergoing something of a talent crisis. While staffing has always been a concern for employers, it seems as if a lack of succession planning is costing organizations dearly – with many departments looking at the practice reactivity rather than preventatively.  

Speaking to HRD, Gregory A. Gast, chief human resources officer at Sun River Health, says that for him succession planning in leadership is one of his biggest challenges right now.  

“We have a lot of leaders leaving, a couple thinking about retirement – some wanting to leave the healthcare industry entirely, while others want to try something different,” he says, “And some just want a different job – which isn’t hard to find.” 

Organizational turnover 

Highest annualized turnover 26.74% – April 2022  

Current annualized turnover 18.46% - March 2023 

Succession planning 

13% of employee population is age 60 or older 

‘Who will my successor be?’ 

For Gast, he says that this is presenting a major challenge for HR leaders – sourcing the right talent to plug those inevitable gaps.  

“It’s not often that people will raise their hand and say ‘Why don’t we look at figuring out who my successor is?’ But we should be encouraging that, even if it is a tough conversation to have. I would say that’s my biggest challenge right now.” 

And Gast isn’t alone. According to data from the Information and Communications Technology Council, 71% of employers are having difficulty in finding skilled workers for their organizations. Despite this, research from Deloitte highlighted that while 56% of companies have a succession plan in theory, just 35% have a documented plan in place.  

It’s this disconnect that’s creating a gap – one which only really emerges after a senior leader is leaving and the panic sets in. For Gast, he tells HRD that succession planning has been both an adversary and an achievement for him over the past year – having seen firsthand what successful planning can lead to.  

“One of the reasons this succession planning is so key to me is I've worked a lot on that in the last year,” he says. “I know I'm not going to be here. I know there there's going to be a successor. And so it's been really gratifying to me to see the three main HR directors who’ve been working with me for the last eight years here be promoted this past year. I would say that's that easily one of my proudest achievements.” 

‘Grass isn’t always greener’ 

It's this commitment to upskilling and development that really cements a good succession plan – and ensures the organization is ready for the uncertainty ahead. At Sun River Health, Gast says that while management training might have slowed, they’re ready and willing to supercharge their L&D initiatives once again. 

“Management training kind of dropped off during the pandemic,” he says. “There was lots of movement with turnover and so on - we waved our magic wand and people just became managers. However, we didn’t always have sufficient training. I'm in resources to be able to say here's what you need to do to be a good manager. So we're starting to get back into that this year.”  

And, when it comes to recruitment and talent acquisition, the post-pandemic landscape has proven more promising for Sun River Health. He reveals that turnover rates have decreased, thanks to their concerted efforts to retain their staff.  

“People are now more inclined to stay in the industry, having realized that the grass is not always greener elsewhere. We’ve seen a little less leaving and much more quality candidates – so it’s looking better.”  

Interview by Chris Davis.

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