Succession Planning & Leadership Development

Succession planning and management (known as SP&M) addresses this looming major “brain drain” and enables the transfer of knowledge between the generations within nonprofit organizations. In fact, only half of public/private businesses have such a plan in place and, as a result, are exposing their organizations to avoidable risk.

According to Paula Cope of Cope & Associates, Inc., succession planning and management is a leadership building process that improves the “bench strength” of nonprofit organizations in significant ways. SP&M enables good hiring decisions, the development of a ready and able talent pool and the development of mission critical skills and competencies through intentional training, coaching and mentoring.

Consider these statistics:

  • 76 million “Baby Boomers” are eligible to retire this year yet there are only 46 million “Gen X-ers” available to take their place.
  • By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be of retirement age–yet working longer!

The ideal succession process is supported by the Board (with a focus on CEO succession) and a diverse working group of staff members (with a focus on staff leadership).

Cope recommends “A Systems Approach to Succession Planning & Management” suitable for large and small organizations. The key steps include:

  • Charter: Develop a charter or Board Policy that addresses the importance of succession planning as a way of attracting, developing, and retaining leaders within the organization.
  • Steering Committee: Charter a representative, self-nominating and trusted Steering Committee of big and systemic thinkers with power and authority to develop and implement the plan.
  • Educate: Educate the Steering Committee about Succession Planning and how to undertake it.
  • Plan: Build a realistic, timely and inclusive work plan with goals and milestones.
  • Communicate: Develop a communications plan and ensure a transparent way forward–don’t let the grape vine take charge of your process.
  • Data: Collect data that that enables the Steering Committee to track and measure including: Existing strategic plan, trends, SWOT assessment, workforce analysis, job descriptions/competencies/ staffing and organizational charts, 360 degree assessments.
  • Key Positions: Identify key positions to be addressed and review current job responsibilities and position descriptions. Are there other places in the organization where leadership can be developed?
  • Competencies: Review core competencies for each position and select competencies to be cultivated for each position.
  • Sort: With a sorting tool, match employees and their ratings with the competency needs of the key positions.
  • Gaps: Identify necessary skills and areas of development and plans for developing staff skills in these areas.

Imagine succession planning and management as a scalable “pipeline” of leadership development that will have a profound impact on your organization. In the smallest organization, it might only take 3-6 months and in a larger organization, up to 3 years.

The good news is that there is a growing body of know-how and variety of useful resources to get you started, including the video presentation, extensive bibliography and supporting slides presented by Paula Cope at a recent Common Good Vermont webcast, Succession Planning and Management: Understanding the Whole Picture.

Learn More

Ask about our video archives!

  • Toolkit: Executive Director Evaluation Survey from Blue Avocado (11/30/2011)
  • Watch it Now: Leader Profile – John Killacky of the Flynn Center (11/21/2011 recording)
  • Watch it Now: Leadership & Collaboration Tips from IBM (4/11 recording)
  • Watch it Now: NPO Leadership Basics (3/11 recording)