Seven steps to effective succession planning

Succession planning

Succession planning in a social impact organization is crucial to ensure a smooth transition of leadership, whether at the senior staffing level or the board level.

Starting the process of succession planning early, and developing a thoughtful plan, can help address various challenges, such as finding appropriate successors, soothing sensitive egos, and overcoming resistance to change.

A well-prepared succession plan secures the future of the organization and protects the impact it makes in the community.

But how do you do one? Here is the seven-step process I recommend:

1. Get stakeholder support and seek out advice

The first step is to open discussions. Make sure that everyone understands the importance of the process and the urgency of getting it started. Get the support of key stakeholders before you begin.

Succession planning can be a complex and sensitive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. Don’t be afraid to seek out professional advice. It is an important process and one where there can be significant negative impact if it’s done poorly – or not done at all.

2. Identify goals and objectives

Know why you’re doing the plan. What are the goals and objectives? They may include things like:

• Having backups for when key board members or staff are away

• Ensuring a regular influx of new ideas and perspectives

• Protecting current staff and directors from burnout

• Preserve the organization’s impact by ensuring continuity and consistency in the programs

• Minimize conflicts and maintain positive relationships throughout the organization

• Ensuring that successors to key positions have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience

Be specific about the goals that you are wanting to accomplish.

3. Prepare for recruitment

Where will you find candidates? Do you have someone already in mind? Are there multiple candidates? How ready are they to step into the role(s)? How will you differentiate between different candidates for the same role? Are there prerequisites that a candidate needs to have to take over (ie: must have served on the board for X years before becoming president)?

Develop the answers to these questions, then start looking for candidates.

4. Create a training program to get the successor up to speed

Once you have a person (or multiple people) identified, develop a program to get them up to speed. This may include specific training (ie: a new board treasurer may need to learn your accounting software) or simple role shadowing, depending on the complexity of the role.

The more time you have for this, the better. By the time they need to take over, they should be completely comfortable with all of the general aspects of the position.

5. Establish a stakeholder communication plan

Getting the sequence of communication right prevents resistance and hurt feelings. Who needs to know the plan and when? If the plan is for the executive director, the board should be involved right from the beginning—and the ED too, of course. Senior management will need to know early – perhaps once recruitment begins.

Identify all the stakeholders, then develop messaging and timing that is appropriate to each one.

6. Establish a timeline with milestones

Determine when the process needs to be completed. If you already know that a key member is leaving, the deadline is therefore set. Otherwise, give yourself at least a year. Longer if the process needs to be done for multiple positions.

Break down the process into small, manageable milestones. Milestones act as checkpoints along the timeline, allowing progress to be tracked and adjustments to be made as necessary.

For example, milestones could include things like completing a list of potential candidates, or having the candidate finish training.

7. Implement and adjust as necessary

Once you have your plan fully laid out, the next step is to implement it. Plans aren’t much use sitting on a shelf gathering dust! As it may take over a year to put in place, be prepared to adjust as you go along. We don’t know what the future will bring, and situations will change over time.

There is more to succession planning than the plan itself.

The plan is important, of course, but the clarity and peace of mind that comes from going through the process of developing that plan is vital as well. Don’t skimp or take shortcuts. You’ll end up with a less robust and less satisfactory result.

If you need help, let me know.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Karen Knight has provided volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations for more than 25 years.

Her professional life has spanned many industries, working in both the private and public sectors in various leadership positions.

Through her passion for making a difference in the world, she has gained decades of experience in not-for-profits as a leader and a board member.

Karen served in Toastmasters International for more than 25 years, in various roles up to district director, where she was responsible for one of the largest Toastmasters districts in the world.

She oversaw a budget of $250,000 and 300 individual clubs with more than 5,000 members. She had 20 leaders reporting directly to her and another 80 reporting to them—all volunteers.

Karen currently serves as vice-president of the board of directors for the Kamloops Therapeutic Riding Association.

After many years working and volunteering with not-for-profits, she found many leaders in the sector have difficulty with aspects of volunteer programs, whether in recruiting the right people, assigning those people to roles that both support the organization’s mission and in keeping volunteers enthusiastic.

Using hands-on experience, combined with extensive study and research, she helps solve challenges such as volunteer recruitment, engagement and training for not-for-profit organizations.

Karen Knight can be contacted at [email protected], or through her website at https://karenknight.ca/.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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