Succession Planning = Leadership Development

Once succession planning activities begin, encourage them to continue by exploring the next step in the succession planning process. Succession planning is really internal leadership development. Promoting staff growth not only empowers but encourages staff to stay engaged in their work and the organization.

Stemming the flow of staff transitioning out of the organization is critical for long term success.  Some transitions are inevitable and perhaps productive but many are a loss of talented staff and organization focus. Consider how much effort and resources were spent the last time a key staff person left.  Transferring information, posting the opening, interviewing candidates, and training new staff;  transitions impede mission and work momentum. Additionally, information and relationships are often lost during the transition.

Developing internal leaders also requires focus and resources but the rewards are vast.  A 2012 study by Matthew Bidwell, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School compared externally to internally developed leaders. The study found externals are 61 percent more likely to be laid off or fired and 21 percent more likely to leave the position on their own accord than their internal counterparts. Mr. Bidwell also found that these externally developed leaders receive higher compensation packages but lower scores in performance reviews during their first two years in the position.

Further, many nonprofits’ missions include empowering clients to become leaders.  True mission is not just something applicable to only part of the organization but throughout. Leadership development becomes even more relevant when it is available to those responsible for developing community leaders. Integrate the essential principles and philosophies of the organization’s grassroots leadership program into the internal leadership development program.

Developing leaders requires strategy and thoughtfulness throughout the organization. Leaders have many responsibilities adding another will not be easy. Once middle managers see upper management taking interest in them and providing opportunities for them to learn, these mid managers will be more likely to mentor line staff.

Leaders should not assume they know the career path of others. Encourage young leaders to explore multiple leadership opportunities and develop their own leadership development plan. Post all department work plans and job descriptions on an internal drive available to all employees. Encourage young leaders to browse through these positions to learn the skills and education they would need. Create an open enrollment time and encourage young leaders to identify potential mentors. Then, give leaders the opportunity to choose their mentee.

Succession planning is leadership development for all. Developing internal leaders is the first step. Building new leaders at the board level is the next step.


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