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. The ideal situation is when the departure of a leader is planned, 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 allowing the current leader to have input into the planning and by ensuring that the transition team has the tools they need to be successful.
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 is someone who 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. In most cases, it will lessen the 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 his/her role will be throughout the process..will he/she remain on board to help the new leader transition successfully?
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. He/she 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 work best in 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. Will the new leader be hired with the thought that he/she is being hired specifically to overcome one particular challenge?
Before making a new hire
Prior to hiring a new individual, the entire board of directors needs to come to an agreement on the goals and expectations of the successor for the first ninety days and the first twelve months. Being clear on these goals will help set the new leader up for success. To give the new leader a firm foundation, plan out his/her orientation. Who will conduct it? Who will be present? How long will it last? Take the time to schedule meetings with key stakeholders so that the 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.