Succession Planning – It’s Not All About You

At some point, every organization will face the challenges of a change in leadership. Though many of these transitions are anticipated – like when a CEO or board chair retires – other times, agencies are faced with the task of filling an unexpected opening.

Nonprofit organizations are known for doing their best to provide stellar services to those in need while working with limited funding and, often, fewer human resources personnel than the typical for-profit company. It’s the nature of the business.

The key to making any leadership change a seamless process for staff and clients alike is to thoughtfully develop a succession plan along with intact, actionable policies that will guide your decisions and help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™

Avoid Service Disruptions by Developing a Plan

Planning ahead is essential – before potential shake-ups take up valuable resources. Always include the executive leadership staff and the board of directors in succession planning and its implementation. Get them onboard for developing an emergency transition plan that outlines the delegation of responsibilities and authority in the event of an unplanned vacancy or leadership disruption.

For planned leadership transitions, map out an appropriate timeline for a smooth transition. This also helps ensure that a proper support system is in place for new leaders, including mentoring opportunities and well-defined goals for the individual and the organization as a whole.

Getting buy-in from the principal people in the organization helps keep everyone focused on developing the most beneficial policies. Make it an organizational goal to support new leadership, allowing him or her to develop a personal comfort level and lead with confidence.

Though obvious, it bears repeating: Communication is paramount. Throughout the entire transition process, it is essential to maintain fluid lines of communication within all levels of the organization.

Develop a Process to Ensure Smooth Transitions

If your organization puts policies into place, they should be thoughtfully analyzed, planned and reviewed – just as agencies do for budgeting, daily operations, strategic planning and other essential functions.

Ensure continuity by developing a list of potential leadership successors based on the ability to enhance and capitalize on individual strengths and effectively match the best candidate to the most appropriate position.

Because nonprofits must generally do more with less, it is beneficial to create ample opportunities for staff and board members to cross-train and/or broaden their leadership skills so that there are several individuals at the ready to step into larger roles with more responsibility when the time comes.

Give special attention to developing your organization’s group of talent. Concentrate your valuable resources on educating and strengthening the skills of your agency’s leadership candidates to build a reserve of exceptional contenders when the time arises.

When compiling your candidate list, be sure to consider challenges such as maintaining an adequate amount of staff diversity, recruitment of a wide range of individuals who provide the skills your agency will need in the future, and long-term employee retention.

Another potential affliction for nonprofits is Founder’s Syndrome, where an organization’s founder or other long-employed leader feels that no one will be able to do all of the work required and/or care more about the mission and staff than he or she does. If a founder refuses to partake in succession planning the entire enterprise can be jeopardized when he or she leaves – or dies. It is up to the board to assert its oversight and prepare for the inevitable transfer of power if the entity is to survive.

Consider Best-Case and Worst-Case Scenarios

Incorporate various situations into your planning. It is easier to prepare for a months-long, anticipated CEO retirement than it is when a key employee takes a job at another organization without warning or requests a leave of absence for several months to care for a stricken parent or recover from an injury.

Consider whether installing an interim leader into a management position would be of greater benefit to your organization than quickly placing someone in a position just to get it filled. This is especially important for the highest-level positions in the agency where it may be beneficial to seek outside candidates for consideration.

And, of course, thoughtful and timely communication before, during and after the transition of leadership positions supports the success of both the individual and your organization as a whole so that the focus will remain on what you are all there to do – fulfill your mission of serving others.

With proper planning beforehand, the stress of selecting a high-level replacement and transitioning that person into the job will be much easier to accomplish. By implementing these tips and instituting a process, you can help your organization Prepare for Greatness!™ when faced with potentially disruptive personnel changes.


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