Executive Level Challenges Fueled by the Pandemic
By Bob Tiell
Career professionals and the career services industry as a whole have long recognized executive level workers as an audience that can greatly benefit from our services (Doheny, 2021; Lubin, 2010; and Oakley, 2019). The current pandemic environment dramatizes our potential positive impact even more. Many organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, have been confronted with challenges throughout the pandemic. Challenges include new executives coming on board under highly stressful conditions as well as veteran executives opting to take early retirement rather than wrestle with an unprecedented crisis. At these executive decision-making junctures, career practitioners have a relevant and important role to play. Below is a brief overview of several executive level challenges.
Screening and Selection: Starting off, the organization has the responsibility to create a protocol, namely a search committee and progressive screening and selection methods, designed to reliably vet candidates who pursue the top executive role within the organization. Several contextual factors come into play when hiring in a pandemic world, such as the reduction of global candidates, the increased need for candidates' crisis management skills and the potential loss of repeated in-person interviewing.
Workforce Churning: Organizations have had to be incredibly agile during the pandemic including necessary shifts to remote work and other disruptions that result in considerable workforce churning. Executives may need to manage employee engagement, which was made more difficult when working virtually. Surveys suggest that many workers who lost jobs do not want to return to their prior jobs, and a large percentage of job applicants desire remote work (SHRM, 2021). News reports reveal the mismatches between Americans who can’t find work and employers who can’t find workers. Unprecedented high employee resignation rates now prompts talent management to take on a role of increased importance. Moreover, many employers have used the pandemic to automate parts of their operation, and some jobs will be permanently eliminated (Weber, 2021).
Upskilling: The need to invest in new staff skill acquisition in order to build the relevant digital and business analytics skill set required by organizations moving forward is upskilling. This is another emerging trend of high importance for executives to address. The pandemic has driven many organizations to increase training investments. However, measuring the return on these upskilling investments remains elusive, especially in the services sector where assessment of training’s impact is often done by way of soft metrics such as employee feedback and completion rates. The planning and decision-making skills of executives come into play when addressing the challenges of upskilling.
Measurement: Stronger metrics need to be used to make sure the organization’s upskilling efforts are paying off. A recent World Economic Forum report (n.d.) found that closing the country’s skill gap could boost GDP $11.5T by 2028. Metrics revolving around factors such as costs, productivity and retention can provide more clarity on upskilling’s impact. The ability to understand and utilize such metrics will assume a higher priority in the executive’s agenda.
Future Focus: Beyond using data as a key support, post-pandemic conditions will heighten the importance of other executive decisions. To remain competitive, organizations will need to consider questions such as:
- What are the required executive skill sets needed to plan for the future?
- How can the organization create a learning culture?
- How can the organization infuse evidence-based-practices?
- Where might automation replace human talent?
- How can workers enhance the client/customer experience?
- What talents are needed to create and continue a product/service delivery system that generates profits and revenues?
Advances on the above fronts will greatly influence an executive’s success and ultimately the organization’s financial health and sustainability in the future.
Meta-level Skills: Certain meta-level skills will also be fundamental to the executive's performance. These skills include leading, inspiring, relationship building, collaboration, communication, influencing, analyzing, integrating, executing, producing and adapting. Executives will also need to effectively demonstrate other required industry and organization specific skills. The executive's ability to reveal these competencies at work or in an employment interview will determine future roles within an organization.
Leadership Transitions: Non-Profit Organizations (NPO’s) are not immune to executive challenges, particularly changes in personnel that disrupt the organization's goals. The April edition of Louisville Business First (Larson, 2021) focused on the significant number of local high-profile executives from prominent non-profit organizations who have stepped down during the pandemic. These leadership transitions place additional pressure on their organizations to make sound executive succession decisions despite pandemic constraints.
Meeting the Collins’ Mantra: Business icon Jim Collins’ hiring philosophy and framework (Collins, 2001) has relevance for organizations’ executive selection. Collins’ mantra is essentially the following: Get the right people on the bus starting with the top executive, get the right people in the right seats on the bus, and align the aggregate talent with the organization’s major goals and challenges. The pandemic may “change the bus route,” yet the bus still needs a driver and the seats still need to be filled!
Career Management Implications
Each of the above challenges has career management implications for executives during this pandemic. Whether executives plan to remain on board and confront the above challenges, perhaps take early retirement, or opt to resign and perhaps seek a whole new career path, they will need to address various career management issues for themselves. They may seek the assistance of professional career coaches on these issues and other employment decisions, which means everyone needs to be advised on all the issues that can easily arise during this pandemic era.
Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. Harper Collins Publishing Inc.
Doheny, K. (2021, February). Top Challenges for Managers in 2021. SHRM. https://shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/people-managers/pages/manager-challenges-2021.aspx
Larson, C. (2021, April 23) Where have all the non-profit CEOs gone? Louisville Business First, pp 4-8.
Lubin, L. (2010, February). The importance of coaching new leaders. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/27356/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Oakley, O. (2019, September). The role of career services professionals in the fourth industrial revolution. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/249393/_self/CC_layout_details/false
Weber, L. (2021). Many jobs lost during the coronavirus pandemic just aren’t coming back. Wall Street Journal. https://www.wsj.com/articles/many-jobs-lost-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-just-arent-coming-back-11626341401
World Economic Forum. (n.d.). Closing the skills gap accelerators [White Paper]. https://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_Closing_the_Skills_Gap_Accelerator_1pager.pdf
Bob Tiell, with the Psychology Resource Group in Louisville KY, is a career consultant who works with individuals, organizations and attorneys on a variety of career, employability and workforce solutions. His work includes executive coaching. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.