It’s never too soon to plan for transition in executive leadership. To expand on a quote from Benjamin Franklin, “Nothing is certain but death and taxes”…and executive transition. Whether planned or unplanned, an organization that has established policies and processes will ensure a smooth continuity of executive leadership. Although continuity of executive leadership, frequently referred to as “succession planning,” most often focuses on the chief executive, organizations would do well to consider how these tips apply to other executive staff and key board members as well.
- Build trust between board and chief executive and between chief executive and his/her executive team to allow for robust discussion of potential transitions and leadership development needs on an ongoing basis. Recognize that a number of barriers can prevent this from happening.
- Replace reliance on individuals with reliance on systems. Develop policies to respond to planned and unplanned vacancies and create systems to ensure that important information and contacts are systematically recorded and monitored rather than kept “in someone’s head.”
- Develop a system for identifying needed skills and personal attributes for executives, assess performance regularly and plan for opportunities to build leadership bench strength. Integrate career planning discussions into the performance evaluation process so that intentions and desires are clear and not assumed.
- Begin the planning for a permanent transition by confirming the core essence of the organization – its vision and values – and then tailor your search to a current strategic direction. Selecting an executive for your organization is one of the most important tasks in ensuring its long-term success. Start with a firm foundation by confirming the context in which your next leader will be operating so that you can select the best person possible to lead within that context. Recognize that the skills that have led to success in the past may not be the skills most important for the future.
- Move quickly, but methodically, when there is a hint of an upcoming vacancy. Today’s reality is that external searches can take six to nine months. Being able to immediately implement a pre-existing plan will give you a jump start, but expect that a thorough and successful process will take time, energy and resources.
- Assess your readiness for executive transition.