Succession planning in a social impact organization is crucial to ensure a smooth transition of leadership, whether at the senior staffing level or the board level.
Starting the process of succession planning early, and developing a thoughtful plan, can help address various challenges, such as finding appropriate successors, soothing sensitive egos, and overcoming resistance to change.
A well-prepared succession plan secures the future of the organization and protects the impact it makes in the community.
But how do you do one? Here is the 7-step process that I recommend.
Get stakeholder support and seek out advice
The first step is to open discussions. Make sure that everyone understands the importance of the process and the urgency of getting it started. Get the support of key stakeholders before you begin.
Succession planning can be a complex and sensitive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice. It is an important process and one where there can be significant negative impact if it’s done poorly – or not done at all!
Identify the goals and objectives of your succession planning
Know why you’re doing the plan. What are the goals and objectives? They may include things like:
- Having backups for when key board members or staff are away
- Ensuring a regular influx of new ideas and perspectives
- Protecting current staff and directors from burnout
- Preserve the organization’s impact by ensuring continuity and consistency in the programs
- Minimize conflicts and maintain positive relationships throughout the organization
- Ensuring that successors to key positions have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience
And so on. Be very specific about the goals that you are wanting to accomplish.
Prepare for recruitment
Where will you find candidates? Do you have someone already in mind? Are there multiple candidates? How ready are they to step into the role(s)? How will you differentiate between different candidates for the same role? Are there prerequisites that a candidate needs to have to take over (ie: must have served on the board for X years before becoming President)?
Develop the answers to these questions, then start looking for candidates.
Create a training program to get the successor up to speed
Once you have a person (or multiple people) identified, develop a program to get them up to speed. This may include specific training (ie: a new board treasurer may need to learn your accounting software) or simple role shadowing, depending on the complexity of the role.
The more time you have for this, the better. By the time they need to take over, they should be completely comfortable with all of the general aspects of the position.
Establish a stakeholder communication plan
Getting the sequence of communication right prevents resistance and hurt feelings. Who needs to know the plan and when? If the plan is for the Executive Director, the board should be involved right from the beginning. And the ED themselves, of course! Senior management will need to know early on – perhaps once recruitment begins. Etc.
Identify all the stakeholders, then develop messaging and timing that is appropriate to each one.
Establish a timeline with milestones for your succession planning
Determine when the process needs to be completed. If you already know that a key member is leaving, the deadline is therefore set. Otherwise, give yourself at least a year. Longer if the process needs to be done for multiple positions.
Break down the process into small, manageable milestones. Milestones act as checkpoints along the timeline, allowing progress to be tracked and adjustments to be made as necessary.
For example, milestones could include things like completing a list of potential candidates, or having the candidate finish training.
Implement and adjust as necessary
Once you have your plan fully laid out, the next step is to implement it. Plans aren’t much use sitting on a shelf gathering dust! As it may take over a year to put in place, be prepared to adjust as you go along. We don’t know what the future will bring, and situations will change over time.
There is more to succession planning than the plan itself.
The plan is important, of course, but the clarity and peace of mind that comes from going through the process of developing that plan is vital as well. Don’t skimp or take shortcuts. You’ll end up with a less robust and less satisfactory result. If you need help, let me know.