Succession Planning Is Part Of Professional Development

January 16, 2019       The NonProfit Times      

The Baby Boomer generation (born between approximately 1946 and 1964) is retiring in rapidly increasing numbers. These retirements are creating dramatic gaps in leadership and instability in the executive ranks of nonprofit organizations.

Leadership changes at nonprofits can be problematic, especially with individuals who are the public face of the organization or drivers of successful fundraising. It is vital for your organization to prepare for the loss of institutional knowledge, as well as a shortage of top talent who understand the complexities of your mission and business.

Ensure that your organization has an effective succession process that includes these leading practices:

  1. Identify key positions to prioritize for succession planning. Not every position is created equal when it comes to the longterm success of an organization. While the president or executive director might be obvious, thoroughly assess the importance of other C-suite and midlevel management positions. In addition, consider the specialization related to each job and the difficulty of filling it from the marketplace and/or internally.
  2. Assess the risk of retirement or voluntary turnover for these positions. Asking a key executive about the person’s long-term employment and retirement plan is not an easy conversation. It could be perceived as a lack of faith in the executive or might introduce doubt about job security. Have the conversation in the proper context – referring to the framework of the succession planning program – to ensure individual buy-in.
  3. Define key competencies. Document the leadership traits and core skills necessary for success in a given position. Some will be immediately obvious – fundraising connections, leadership and management competency, strategic planning capabilities, etc. The analysis should include not only current, but also future needs based on strategic plans and anticipated industry changes.
  4. Identify internal talent. Individuals who have the required skill set or potential to develop into a position might already be on your staff. Pinpoint these individuals, as well as their developmental needs and time frame for development to determine if they are viable short-term or long-term candidates. Keep an open mind. Your candidate might not be the second-in-command of a department. You might find the appropriate competencies in other department members or from individuals in different areas.
  1. Cultivate connections to discover external candidates. There might not be a qualified internal candidate, or such a candidate may have a long development horizon. As a hedge against being caught short, continuously build a pipeline for potential external candidates. Be an active networker with peer organization personnel who might have the required skill sets, and develop relationships with recruiting firms and others who can help identify candidates when the need arises. Make this part of your hiring strategy for the next generation of leaders.
  1. Implement a development program. Create a roadmap for potential candidates to mature into their future leadership positions. A meaningful development program includes job rotation possibilities, participation in key internal committees, formal and informal mentor/coach relationships, and specialized and soft skills/ culture training. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, tailor the program to the candidate and position.
  2. Cross-train employees. To mitigate the impact of transition, proactively prepare employees to take on different roles, ensuring an appropriate diversification of institutional knowledge and capability among a number of individuals. Training can be via formalized job rotation through key positions or sharing of information and procedures among key employees. An additional benefit of cross-training via job rotation is seeing employees perform in a different capacity and identifying potential internal candidates as future replacements for retirements and turnovers.
  1. Document policies and responsibilities. Supplement cross-training with written policies, programs and job descriptions to avoid losing essential knowledge and help orient employees to their rotational assignments.

With a well-designed succession planning process, your organization can stay ahead of the curve and ensure smooth leadership transitions.