From Succession Planning to Pipeline Development

Leadership succession is too often a turbulent and difficult time for organizations.  Trust is low, uncertainty and gossip are in abundant supply.   Why didn’t we see this coming?  Some will say.  Some even might say, we knew this was coming, why didn’t we do anything to prepare?  

What happens if… succession_planning_resized

Succession planning is often driven by an announcement that someone has already left or will very soon.  When strong and well-established leaders go,  it can throw into question the very sustainability of the organization.   The temptation is to find that silver bullet – someone who can easily step into the leader’s shoes.  Most of the time, that person just isn’t there.

Rather than waiting for the inevitable to happen, some organizations are taking the bold step of planning ahead.

The challenge of normalizing succession planning

In nonprofits, perhaps because of the role of the Executive Director in fundraising and recruitment, talk of succession is often kept quiet.  In unions, where top officers are elected, it is even touchier to broach.  The challenge is to talk regularly about succession long before there is an actual date certain.  This way, it can be seen as a  routine approach to a reasonable expectation that people may leave.

The best protection against the turbulence that accompanies high level departures is a strong bench- something the organization will benefit from whether or not someone leaves.   Organizations that build in the transfer of knowledge and relationships and spread out responsibility and roles are prepared for transitions and not burning leaders out as quickly.

Getting help with succession planning

We can help identify the needs and facilitate the conversations necessary to create a positive approach to transition.

  • Engage staff and board
  • Clarify the strategic direction and goals
  • Identify critical roles and responsibilities
  • Catalog skills, institutional knowledge, and relationships
  • Make a plan to build your bench


Tim Wolfred (2008)..Building Leadership Organizations: Succession Planning for Non-profits, Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Marshall Goldsmith (2009).  Succession: Are You Ready? Harvard Business School Press.