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Succession Planning

According to William J. Rothwell, perhaps the world expert on succession planning, “There is a quiet crisis sweeping the world… centering around ensuring effective succession in organizations of all types, sizes, and industry categories.”

Fifty percent of Canadian and U.S. nonprofit executive directors will reach retirement age by 2020. In Canada that’s as many as 80,500 transitions while in the United States this amounts to 980,000 retirements!

The challenge lies in finding and grooming the people who can effectively replace them. That may not be so easy. An aging population has reduced the candidate pool. Rapidly changing technology makes it hard to predict what it will take to manage organizations in the future. Changing attitudes toward work are making employee retention increasingly difficult. All of these factors make effective succession planning and management crucial to the long-term success of today’s nonprofit organizations.

What is Succession Planning?

Succession planning is any effort designed to ensure the continued effective performance of an organization, division, department or work group by making provision for the development and replacement of key people over time.

Succession plans include all the thinking, planning, preparations and activities that take place in anticipation of and prior to the announcement of a definite departure date. These are organization development activities.

Transition plans, by contrast, contain all the thinking, planning, preparations and activities that take place immediately following the announcement of a leader’s departure date. The focus of this work centers around two human resource processes: hiring and orientation.

Succession Planning and Management Programs

A succession planning and management program is a systematic effort to ensure leadership continuity in key positions, retain and develop intellectual and knowledge capital for the future, and encourage individual advancement.

The foundation of any succession planning effort is defining what you are looking for. This takes two forms:

  • Job descriptions — that define who does what, and
  • Skill descriptions — that define how you want people to do it.

Skill descriptions define the difference between effective performers and exemplary performers. In doing so they go well beyond the “hard” skills required for a job — what people know and can do — and include the qualities and values that often define the difference between competence and excellence.

Skill descriptions enable full integration of HR functions—such as recruitment, selection, compensation, performance evaluation, career pathing, and training needs — into the succession planning process. Moreover, they help you plan for the future by identifying the developmental needs of the organization’s next generation of managers and leaders.

Finally, they allow you to build a strong organizational culture by focusing not only on the skills your people will need, but the kind of people your organization needs to recruit to be successful.

Levels of Succession Planning Programs

Succession planning programs can vary in size from those that focus only on the top positions to those that encompass the entire organization. Usually the implementation plan for any program begins with a Level 1 project and progresses sequentially throughout the organization.

Level 1 — Replacement planning for the CEO/ED.

Level 2 — Replacement planning for the CEO’s/ED’s direct reports and key management position.

Level 3 — Replacement planning for all other full-time, nonunion positions.

Level 4 — Creating an internal talent pool that is not linked to a position. The intent of this program is to create many potential successors for key positions at all levels of the organization.

Level 5 — Creating an external talent pool that is not linked to a position. The intent of this program is to include external groups such as sister and professional organizations, membership groups, volunteers and other talented individuals who may be tapped on short notice for temporary or permanent positions.

How to Proceed

The diagram below depicts the seven key steps in the process of systematic succession planning and management — regardless of the scope of your project.

Adapted from Rothwell

One word in the process is worth noting —commitment. Reaping the benefits of succession planning requires a systematic approach — it shouldn’t be viewed as a one-shot deal but rather as an ongoing effort to be integrated into all of your performance management practices. The job is not simply to draw up a plan, but to manage your people, your performance management systems and your training & development investment in a way that ensures you always have people qualified to meet your future needs. Succession planning is about the long term and it takes commitment to see it through.

10 Benefits of Succession Planning

  1. Provide increased opportunities for “high potential” workers
  2. Identify “replacement needs” as a means of targeting necessary training, employee education and development
  3. Increase the talent pool of promotable employees
  4. Contribute to implementing the organization’s strategic plans
  5. Help individuals realize their career plans within the organization
  6. Untap the potential for intellectual capital in the organization
  7. Encourage the advancement of diverse groups
  8. Improve employees’ ability to respond to changing environmental demands
  9. Improve employee morale
  10. Cope with the effects of voluntary separation

Who can you turn to?

Change is never easy but a qualified organization development consultant experienced in succession planning can help you identify your succession planning needs and develop a strategy that suits your organization.

Please contact Make Things Happen for a complimentary consultation to see how we might contribute to your success.