Succession planning is an area of growing interest in the nonprofit sector as aging Baby Boomers transition into smiling retirees. This shift is affecting and will continue to affect organizations from two perspectives:
- Planning for how best to plan for senior management departures and then developing strategies for advancing existing staff to new roles
- Developing plans for replacing the existing cadre of board leadership.
As a consultant, I have helped many organizations through these critical processes. Most recently, I have been working on the succession planning efforts of two large organizations: the nation’s largest retirement communities’ governing board, and a metropolitan-area religious-based community services organization.
Succession Planning at the Board Level
The retirement communities’ board was seeking to assess how best to strengthen its officer and board member recruitment and nomination processes. The scope of their nationwide business oversight responsibilities is quite extensive and growing rapidly. Consequently, they need to ensure a continuing flow of highly qualified new board members and enhance the existing processes for selecting and electing new officers. My work with this admirable organization was a six-month effort that involved interviewing all board members, several community leaders from across the country, and working closely with key board leaders to frame a succession plan.
The board spent considerable time deliberating the various proposals offered to them and reached consensus on a series of steps to be implemented over the next several years, thus ensuring good governance practices will be in place. This group wisely chose to begin succession planning work before an unexpected leadership crisis faced them.
Succession Planning to Protect the Strength of Senior Management
Conversely, the community services organization with which I have been collaborating recognizes that in five to seven years they could be dealing with the retirement of several members of their senior management team. With nearly 1,000 staff providing services to the most vulnerable populations living in a large metropolitan area, they simply cannot have any leadership gaps and still expect to meet critical client needs every day. My advisory work with this organization is an ongoing project that has included interviewing members of the senior management team, as well as the next level of senior managers who are viewed as potential candidates for advancement. What is remarkable about the leadership of this religious organization is their understanding that taking action now will give them ample time to assess existing management team members, and to provide them opportunities for strengthening their skills or acquiring needed education to advance into senior management. The project was launched by the senior management team with support from the governing board, which is primarily focused on retaining or replacing senior leaders.
Both groups are excellent examples of how we encourage clients to develop thoughtful succession plans for governance and for staff leaders well in advance of the time when changes are expected to take place.