Succession planning is your safety net

A tightrope walker high up in the air.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Graeme Maclean.

If your organization doesn’t have a comprehensive succession plan in place, it’s walking a tightrope without a safety net. The problem is organizations fall – and fail – all the time and suffer the bumps, bruises and worse awaiting at the bottom.

Too many organizations fail to prepare at all for turnover at the top. That’s one reason we’ve written our book, When Leaders Leave: A New Perspective on Leadership Change. Perhaps as often, what exists is an emergency succession plan. This reactive plan spells out how an organization will continue operations in the event of an unplanned absence or sudden departure of the chief executive or a key manager.

What’s more rare, but even more essential for the long-term health of the organization, is a comprehensive succession plan. Instead of reacting to a one-time crisis, the comprehensive succession plan lays out a process for mapping the landscape, preparing for contingencies and minimizing risks threatening the organization.

We cover this comprehensively in a chapter in “When Leaders Leave” titled “Plan for Success. Plan for Succession.”

Whenever a nonprofit’s leadership team and/or board of directors is discussing strategic planning, succession planning should also be on the agenda. It’s not the easiest subject matter to broach, and it is much easier to do when the board and chief executive have built up a relationship of trust and pro-active cooperation. But all that hard work will be rewarded in a stronger organization able to withstand the challenges presented by leadership transition.

But just as most people would want a safety net below them when they’re attempting a high-wire walk, so too should nonprofit organizations protect themselves by adopting and implementing a comprehensive succession plan.