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Nonprofit organizational succession planning consultation facilitated by leading Transitions will usually include one or more of the following three primary phases:Phase I – Assessment and Culture Creation, Phase II – Executive Level Emergency Succession Planning, and Phase III – Ongoing Succession Planning / Leadership Development. In order for me to make some concrete and sustainable recommendations, we offer the following steps within each of the three phases:
Oftentimes, we conduct structured interviews with various key constituents. We will work with you on how you may bring succession planning issues into the conversations with your Board of Directors.
If you wish, we enjoy talking with your Board President and / or members of your governance committee of the Board of Directors about their own (volunteer) succession planning responsibilities and opportunities. The intention is for volunteers and paid staff to see how this work is about securing your organization's mission into the future.
Our preference is to work with a team of staff that you select to identify key leadership functions carried out by the executive director, identify senior organizational leaders best qualified to assume the role of executive director in an emergency situation, and recommend the cross-training necessary so the team can fulfill the leadership functions until an (interim) executive director is appointed.
In addition to being better prepared, a major and immediate benefit of this work is staff can enhance leadership skills and perhaps improve their knowledge of each other's roles and responsibilities. They will also gain confidence in their own ability to assume executive functions once cross-training begins.
We will outline policies and procedures for the temporary appointment of an acting executive director.
Together, we will look at the up-and-coming pipeline of leadership within your organization to determine if these young and/or newer professionals are receiving what they need to be successful in their work.
When applicable, we can work with your fund development staff on the essential task of including all of your past, current and future succession planning efforts into proposal procurement and composition.
This phase is the time to address what needs to be done to implement new ideas and ensure that there are mechanisms in place to facilitate these ideas being maintained on into the future.
As members of the board of directors, there is much you can do to prepare the organization for an eventual transition long before the executive director announces an intention to leave.
Management development builds leadership potential broadly across the organization. Succession planning involves finding and perhaps preparing someone with leadership ability to assume the executive director's functions. An effective leadership transition is a product of effective management development. Sometimes, when an organization has been committed to management development over time the successor to an outgoing executive director can be found among current or past staff members.
The board should insist that all senior staff members have personal development plans, created jointly with their supervisors, which chart their desired areas for professional growth. Each staff member's plan would likely include some job-specific sills, such as marketing, board relations, strategic visioning, PR, or database creation, as well so-called "soft skills," such as communicating effectively, managing conflict, and setting priorities.
Then the board and executive director should ensure that all staff have opportunities through nonprofit capacity building training, cross training in one another's responsibilities, short internships, mentorships, coaching, and on the job experience to strengthen their leadership capacity. Funding for training and other growth opportunities should be included in the organization's budget and grant requests, and supervisors should track progress and provide encouragement and coaching where necessary.
Make sure that the executive director and the board have accurate up-to-date job descriptions that relate to what you each really do and are based on an assessment of what the organization needs. This is helpful not just for tracking how things are going in your current executive director, but also will establish a framework for creating a job description for his or her eventual successor.
Insist that processes and procedures be well documented, information be shared, files be centralized and standardized, and whatever other steps are necessary be taken to ensure that critical knowledge isn't just in one or two people's heads and can easily be accessed by others as needed.
The next time the executive director takes a vacation, put the system to the test and evaluate the results. What information was hard to come by? What decisions were difficult to make? What systems need to be put into place to ensure a smooth transition for the organization and the new leadership?
Even in those organizations where regular feedback and evaluation of programs and services are the norm, it is not always the case that the board routinely reviews the executive director's performance. But doing so is a critical board function. Since the board and the executive director ideally work together very closely, it is important that the board have feedback about its performance from the executive director as well. Be sure to have frequent conversations about mutual expectations.
Develop annual professional goals for the executive director and for board members that advance the organization's overall institutional goals. Some goals would be common to all board members and some would be specific to the positions certain members hold and the responsibilities they take on. Such goals create a frame work for the conversations about how things are going and can sometimes begin a discussion about an executive's future transition.
Schedule an annual formal self-assessment and reciprocal evaluation of the board and the executive director. First the board and the executive director should consider how their own performance measured up to their own expectations for themselves and then they should explore one another's contributions. By means of this constructive process board members and the executive director will come to understand what changes they might make that would benefit the organization.While this may sound great in theory, most board members and executive directors are reluctant to give one another honest feedback. Yet without it, board members and executive directors are likely to become dissatisfied with each other, coming to see one another as impediments rather than partners.
see Emergency Plan [pdf] from CompassPoint for more information