Many organizations, large and small, avoid the topic of leadership transition. In smaller agencies, the weight and expense of supporting a secondary leadership role are deterrents. In larger organizations, executives may avoid the issue for fear of compromising their authority and becoming “lame ducks.” With a little planning, these events that are usually associated with uncertainty and worry can actually help an organization to grow. The time and leadership commitment required for succession planning tend to deter volunteer boards, and the suggestion of a transition may cause apprehension in funders.
Executive transition management, or ETM, is a unique approach to reducing the risks and maximizing the potential of the active transition period. This brief highlights some of the concerns surrounding executive transitions and some of the ETM practices that can help overcome those concerns and make the experience one of growth.
Most transitions are non-routine, following an organizational crisis or the departure of a founder
Findings & Stats
Transitions involving the founder of an organization are the most dangerous, as the organization is often identified with its first leader. One out of every three of the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s community-based grantees is founder-led.
Transitions Threaten Stability
The negative outcomes associated with poor transitions and the increasing frequency of those transitions point to a looming threat to the performance of the nonprofit sector. That threat could disrupt the delivery and the quality of services for vulnerable populations.
Planning for Succession Success
An organization that gives ongoing attention to talent-focused succession planning can both energize and reassure a board by providing the occasion for high-level strategy development and demonstrating that staff leadership is broadly shared and backed up.
Three ways to think about succession planning: 1) strategic leader development; 2) emergency succession; and 3) departure-defined succession planning.
Statements & Quotations
Leaders, boards, and organizations who can overcome initial reservations about succession planning ultimately find that this work generates unforeseen opportunities and excitement for the future.
...an organization that gives ongoing attention to talent-focused succession planning can be more nimble and flexible, having the skills and capacity at hand to meet whatever challenges may arise. In turn, the executive’s job becomes more “doable” because leadership is shared.