SUCCESSION PLANNING: BE PROACTIVE,
Succession planning is one of the major issues for the board of directors
in the coming decade. The demographic reality is that organizations will
have a shrinking pool of labor from which to draw on. That will impact
nonprofit operations at all levels, from the receptionist to the executive
and definitely the volunteer corps.
It is this reality that has pushed succession planning – an important
issue in normal times – to the forefront. Given looming demographic
data, it is not surprising that this issue has already garnered a significant
amount of press and even research attention. Despite this attention,
study after study shows that executive directors and boards are not spending
the necessary time or effort on succession planning. For a board of directors,
the importance of succession planning is clear, but an area that is not
receiving adequate attention.
The question of how organizations can best implement an effective succession
planning program, however, remains far less straightforward.
As knowledge around the issue grows, best practices emerge regarding
characteristics of an effective succession planning program. Of particular
interest are five specific characteristics that both CEOs and Boards
may find helpful in developing a successful and effective program.
Be proactive, not reactive.
Those who volunteer for boards are often between
ages of 30 to 50. This is especially true in grassroots organization. This
means that the market for board members, a new executive director,
paid staff, or leadership volunteers will be tight. Too many
openings and not enough people. Given this statistical reality organizations
need to establish an active plan to find new people to fill a variety
of roles. Identifying talent within and outside the organization
Make succession planning a priority at all levels of the organization.
|Suppose the treasurer of the board who has served six years announces
she is leaving. The board likely will set up a rigorous plan
to find a new treasurer, likely to take a few weeks. That is
not succession planning. The organization should know who is
qualified to replace this key leadership person and is prepared to
step in to the position. The entire organization, not just
the board, needs to commit to planning ahead. An executive
director or CEO needs to motivate staff and work with the board president
to devote the time and effort to make succession planning a reality.
Leverage a systematic approach.
|Programs in a nonprofit are measured, usually by results. Funds
raised are measured and compared year to year. Employee turnover
is measured. So too succession. Whether it is planning
for staff turnover or board turnover, there needs to be a clear process
that is working all the time…just like risk management.
Be clear and flexible about what you need.
|Organizations need to be clear, yet flexible in planning for the
future. A nonprofit may have had a long term executive director
whose leadership style is steady and reliable. The board knows
(from strategic planning) that the future leader needs to be someone
who is tech savvy. Board members may be looking for the next
leader and the staff to support someone with those specific skills. This
is in order to take the organization to its next level of effectiveness.
Give potential successors a broad education.
Whether paid staff, board or volunteer create a broad education. Staff
can shadow people from other areas of work in the nonprofit. Board
members can visit with staff in all areas of service and administration. Sometimes
it pays off to have a board member work for one day in the organization
to see the efforts of volunteers and staff. This type of
familiarity with operations can help individuals, staff or volunteer,
bring there A game to the work of the organization. It is
also a way of preparing people to move into new positions.
The looming demographic change will impact the recruitment and retention
of board volunteers and paid staff. Organizations with effective leadership
are more successful than those without.
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