Succession Planning Part I: What Is It and What Are Common Mistakes?

Succession planning is something most for-profits are all too familiar with, but is just starting to really catch on in the non-profit arena. Consequently, many experts feel that “succession planning” in the non-profit context hasn”t entirely been defined. But generally, when Executive Directors (ED”s) and Boards refer to succession planning they are referring to a common understanding that transition is or may be taking place. By anticipating and planning for such a transition, those involved are seeking to maintain operations and programming and ensure that the transition goes as smooth and uneventful as possible.

From the outset it”s important to understand what type of transition your organization is going through to create the appropriate succession plan. In one instance, ED”s aren”t necessarily leaving but have realized that the organization is entirely too dependent on them. So if they did need to leave, the organization would be left in an upheaval. If  this is the case  an ED will generally address succession by beefing up staff and management positions.

Two other types of succession planning deal with transitions  where: i) an ED, or key staff member, may not be able to serve due to an emergency; or ii) where an ED has decided to leave indefinitely.

In an earlier post I quickly discussed why succession planning is something that ALL organizations should be thinking about both large and small. Especially the small organizations where the slightest changes tend  to have more of a residual effect.  But a succession plan is not something to be thrown together three months and two days before someone leaves. They are truly effective when an organization has had time to sit, audit, reflect and communicate. Meaning, this is something that should be done far in advance of when its actually needed.  And  I”ll quickly point out that failing to have a succession plan in place can not only impact an organization from a governance perspective, but a legal perspective as well. If taxes aren”t filed, filing deadlines aren”t met or services aren”t paid for, “We were looking for a new executive director” is typically not a successful defense (at least not that I”m aware of). But I”ll get more into that in later posts.


Typical Mistakes

For now I just want to quickly list typical mistakes casino spiele ED”s, and Boards, can tend to make when dealing with succession plans and the circumstances surrounding them.

Typical mistakes made are :

  • A board postponing the discussion of a succession plan out of fear of offending an ED.
  • Similarly, an ED  refrains from discussing a succession plan out of fear of becoming a “lame-duck” or panicking the Board.
  • An organization not allowing enough time for adequate discussion, creation and implementation of a succession plan.
  • The Board failing to recognize the transition for what it its; an opportunity to review the direction of the organization and determine if that”s the line the organization should continue to tow or whether change is in order.  Can also correct any “mission creep” that”s occurred.
  • The Board”s and ED”s failure to communicate with the staff during the creation of a succession plan. Must address any potential loyalty staff has to the ED and any anxiety they may be feeling. Failing to include them is also a problem if senior management or a key employee is the one that happens to leave.
  • Along those same lines failing to audit the ED”s position, and thoroughly understand everything they do, can present a problem when choosing a successor  as an ED is almost always doing far more than a Board anticipates. Can”t hire adequately if the void isn”t fully understood.
  • Board doesn”t audit themselves and ensure they”re healthy enough (whether it be financial oversight or understanding of the organization) to withstand a transition.
  • Not determining early on how much of a role the ED should play throughout the transition. Will they largely spearhead things and make all the decisions or would the board prefer to take the reins with the ED”s input.
  • Board creates an unhealthy relationship/precedent upon an ED”s departure by maintaining constant and direct contact with the staff.
  • Organization isn”t allowed to “breathe” and a successor is immediately put into place whereas an interim would have been more appropriate.
  • Successor isn”t adequately trained upon appointment or given the resources/written policies to assist with settling into the position.

These are just a few mistakes that can be made.  I”m sure there are more,  but my point here isn”t to create a “parade of horribles”. Rather, I wanted to point out a few “misdirections” an organization can make with the hope that upon recognizing them and organization will then capitalize on the opportunity to correct things while there is still a chance.

I plan to provide solutions to these in an upcoming post, but I”m SURE you were planning to check out the rest of the series anyway right? Good.


Related Posts

 Succession Planning: The Series