Two-thirds of respondents (from ICL’s survey for “A Changing Landscape: Future Leadership for the Great Lakes”) rated planning for executive transition as a skill gap. These leaders expressed concerns that organizations either risk losing the institutional history and long-standing relationships when long-time leaders step down or risk stagnation if these long-time leaders remain. This finding mirrors ICL’s experience of many boards and executive directors not having systems and practices in place that prepare the organization for a leadership transition.
43% of organizations have had to fill a “C-suite” position in the past two years, reported the Bridgespan Group in their 2015 survey. In a webinar held by Nonprofit Quarterly earlier this year, it was reported that 9% of executives turn over every year. These shifts happen for a variety of reasons including leaders shifting into new roles, retirement, being asked to leave and leaving for a new organization. With this data in mind, the question of leadership transition is not “if” it will happen, but rather “when” it will happen.
Life transitions often trigger a variety of emotions. Leadership transitions are no different. Yet many times organizations just attend to the technical aspects of the process – do we have an emergency succession plan? how will we set up the search committee? Who will write the job description?
I was recently working with an Executive Director who is planning on retiring in two years. She told the staff and board of her plans and was surprised to learn that many of them were anxious about the upcoming leadership transition. Emotions range from anxiety and confusion to excitement and anticipation. By making it safe to talk about these reactions, an organization will be better prepared to work with its people through the many technical aspects of the transition process.
Three Stage Process
Tom Adam’s classic on the subject, The Nonprofit Leadership Transition and Development Guide: Proven Paths for Leaders and Organizations, describes a three-step process that is optimal for organizations to use. He names these, “prepare, pivot, thrive.” Most organization pay most attention to the ‘pivot’ phase because it includes the actual search and hiring process. Yet successful transitions need investments of time in each of the three stages. The key to the ‘prepare’ stage is documenting institutional knowledge from departing leaders, conducting an organizational assessment and stabilizing the organization if necessary. The stage of ‘Thrive’ is often forgotten as those working on the transition and hiring process are worn out. Yet this stage is critical for the success of the new leader.
Join ICL’s Carol Hamilton on July 27th from 2pm to 3pm EST for a free webinar exploring this important topic. RSVP now!