Succession Planning: Could it be Too Little Too Late?

“The next ten years will prove to be the most challenging in our history…they always do.”  Author Unknown

 The above quote has a wry ring of truth about the realities facing all organizations, industries, and movements seeking to meet the challenges of mankind in a meaningful way. The inevitabilities of our frailty and mortality combined with the increasing complexities of our technological, medical, and educational efforts to forestall them ensure that the next ten years will be invariably more challenging than the last.

A Tsunami of Leadership Transitions

Those committed to the faithful care and service of our ‘neighbors’ who are compromised by old age, mental illness, and developmental disabilities, are not exempt from the truth expressed above and may, in fact, experience it in unprecedented form. Consider two converging realities: A) Given the age and generational cycles of those providing leadership to our organizations, we expect to see the highest number and percentage of CEO and senior management retirements over the next decade, and B) Demographic studies of caregivers in relation to those needing care in the senior services arena show alarming projections; in 2010, the ratio of caregivers to those in need of care in the U.S. was greater than 7:1; in 2030, the ratio will drop to 4:1 and then 3:1 by 2050.

Succession Planning Helps. But…      

Not surprisingly, recent industry conferences have seen a decided uptick in the number of presentations on Succession Planning and an increase in sizes of the audiences, largely made up of Board of Director members and CEOs in their early to mid-sixties. They are looking for answers to their own organizational challenges, perhaps a formula for honoring their exiting CEO with grace and honor while, simultaneously, welcoming their new version of Jack Welch.

 Succession planning, done well, is critical to such a leadership transition, but if it is a process unto itself, initiated upon the current CEO’s announcement of his or her retirement a year or eighteen months in advance, it is likely to be a case of ‘too little too late’. And, for those organizations whose by-laws and/or religious affiliations require that the incoming CEO be of a specific faith tradition or be able to espouse like-faith personal convictions, the pool of available talent shrinks significantly.

If our Anabaptist organizations wish to uphold such leadership pillars as Character, Collaboration, and Culture, and throughout the critical Changes in their key leadership roles, we need a more proactive approach; one that is steeped in thoughtfulness and prayerfulness; one that is considerate of its people (clients, employees, and board members), its purpose (mission), and its aspirations (vision).

Let’s Try Leadership Planning

Leadership Planning is an integrative process that utilizes a number of key organizational strengthening exercises in an ongoing manner. It is not triggered by the impending retirement of a CEO; in fact, it is not even primarily focused on the CEO. A forward-thinking, learning organization understands the importance and value of a well-balanced leadership team and takes measures to ensure that the team is ever growing in its skill level, versatility, and diversity.

A learning organization continually assesses its own bench-strength and develops leadership plans that ensure its ongoing viability in the face of planned retirements, unplanned resignations, or tragic loss of key members due to accidents or health concerns. A learning organization conducts leadership development programs and individual development plans for its “HIPOTS”, high potential team members. Learning organizations take a critical look at their new employee orientation programs and their performance review systems to ensure that they are aligned and supportive of their leadership planning.

Taking the Long View

Leadership Planning takes the long view of the organization’s viability through the lens of understanding that acknowledges that no master planning or strategic planning process has any validity without a strong team of leaders to carry it out. Leadership Planning is critical to maintaining and developing the culture and mission of the organization, especially in those people-caring fields in which we labor.

With the prospect of the diminishing workforce referenced above, every mission based, care-giving organization must do everything in its power to grow leadership potential from within and to know exactly what they are missing when required to look outside for those additional leadership resources. Then, Succession Planning is an informed and calculated venture, rather than a time-constrained hope against hope that Mr. or Ms. Right CEO will be out there awaiting our call.

Short Summary

Succession Planning can be a frustrating race against the clock in a resource-depleted environment. Let’s try Leadership Planning, a comprehensive and ongoing preparation for sustained organizational health.


The opinions expressed on this blog by post authors and commenters are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of MHS, nor is MHS responsible for the accuracy of any information supplied by authors or commenters.

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