Nonprofit Network Blog

Succession Planning for the New Year

Thursday, January 02, 2020 10:43 AM | Sharon Castle (Administrator)

Sharon Castle

Capacity Builder

“One of the things we often miss in succession planning is that it should be gradual and thoughtful, with lots of sharing of information and knowledge and perspective, so that it’s almost a non-event when it happens.”

-Anne M. Mulcahy, Former CEO and Chairwoman, Xerox

As we enter a new year, it seems all but impossible to not think about ways in which we hope to improve over the past and establish good habits. The challenge, of course, is sticking to our resolutions and embedding them into our lives so a year from now we can look back with the pride of knowing at least one of our resolutions stuck. 

Here’s a resolution challenge for 2020: Succession Planning.

Succession planning doesn’t just happen, but (and this is a big BUT) it doesn’t have to, and frankly, shouldn’t be a separate organizational activity. Upon realizing we are all dispensable and “things” happen, one habit I developed many years ago, was to always do my work so that anyone could take over at any time. Not only was a succession planning mindset great for the organization, but it also benefited me personally. 

Think about the planning you have to do before going on vacation, taking maternity/paternity leave or caring for an ill child or parent. If you create succession habits regularly, anyone should be able to pick up the mantle of your job.

Throughout my career. folks who took over positions from which I moved on have gone out of their way to thank me for “leaving a trail that was easy to follow.” How did I do it? It was easy once I approached my job with a succession planning mindset. In this digital age, it is easier than ever to insure that our successors have every advantage at succeeding.

So, how do we embed succession planning in our daily work lives?

  • Establish a well-ordered, simple filing system for digital and manual files
  • Create a (insert your title here) “how to” manual file and include:
    • Updated job description for your position 
    • Updated job description for any position reporting to you
    • Updated organizational chart
    • Annual goals and objectives for your areas of responsibility—Review/update these goals and objectives quarterly
  • Create and maintain project folders and “next step” notes on ongoing projects
  • When starting a task, ask yourself, “If I had never done this before, what would I need to know?” and document the steps to complete the task for inclusion in your “how to” manual file
  • Develop KISS (keep it simple stupid!) systems that are easily followed
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel; create templates for all documents used on a fairly regular basis
  • Communicate regularly with co-workers about important projects
  • Mentor a colleague
  • Give continuous/helpful feedback to staff under your supervision
  • When attending a webinar, reading an article or joining a professional organization, include a brief summary of why the particular activity was helpful to your professional development

Need help getting started? We can assist you with establishing good succession planning habits in your day-to-day operations or with developing a succession plan.

**Originally posted Dec. 2017, updated for Jan. 2020

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