Change, while most of us do not like it, is inevitable. Sooner or later, a great leadership team or person is going to leave. Or the not-so-great leader needs to be gently shown to the door so they can serve in another organization. Whatever the case, succession planning is essential and ensures the organization is prepared when these changes happen.
Emergency succession planning occurs when it is necessary to prepare for a new leader without any notice. Without a doubt, this is difficult and at the very least, inconvenient. Ideally, leader departures are planned and sometimes referred to as Departure Defined Succession Planning. Planning for the departure of a leader allows the organization to position itself for continued success by offering the current leader input into the planning and by equipping the transition team with the necessary tools.
It is important to note that even when departure is planned, there are times when it is not an easy transition, particularly if the individual is an organizational founder or has been affiliated with the organization for a long period of time.
In an ideal situation, the organization will have at least six months to prepare for the departure of the leader. Once a decision has been made, it is important to begin the transition process immediately. One of the biggest mistakes made by organizations is waiting “until the time is closer” to begin planning. Sometimes this is done because the transition team doesn’t want to step on the toes of the current leader and sometimes it is done because the Board doesn’t want to face reality. In most cases, it will lessen anxiety the leader has about leaving to know that a plan to continue the work of the organization is being developed. So, begin right away!
Involve the current leader throughout the process to ensure continuity of operations and to learn what is needed to move the organization in a positive direction. Discuss with the leader what their role will be throughout the process. Will they remain on board to help the new leader transition successfully? Be aware, having the current leader stay involved with the work of the organization can create issues for the new leader…it just creates an awkward situation.
Review the job description of the current leader. Determine what is appropriate and what is no longer relevant. In addition to having the transition team review the job description, have the current leader review it as well. They may have some thoughts about what it should really say. Identify the top 3-5 priorities that the leader will need to work on over the course of the next year. These priorities should align with the organization’s strategic plan.
As a team, identify the answers to the following questions:
What skills and abilities are needed to move the organization forward?
What experiences are necessary to move the organization forward?
What kind of leader are you looking for? What will fit best into the culture of the organization?
What characteristics are not desired?
Review the organizational weaknesses. Begin to identify strategies to help the organization overcome these challenges. Is the new leader being hired specifically to overcome one particular challenge?
Before making a new hire
Prior to hiring a new individual, the entire board of directors should define the goals and expectations of the successor for the first 90 days and the first 12 months. Being clear on these goals will help set the new leader up for success.
Give the new leader a firm foundation, plan out their orientation. Who will conduct it? Who will be present? How long will it last? Take the time to schedule meetings with key stakeholders so the new leader can become familiar with the organization and its work quickly. Part of the orientation plan will also include some clear strategies for professional development (i.e., conferences, trainings, etc.).
Preparing for the departure of a key organizational leader is a lot of work. But, taking the time to do the work saves so much time in the long run and ensures organizational continuity.
If your organization does not have a succession plan in place, perhaps developing one should be a goal in 2023. Feel free to email if we can help.