The Center for Association Leadership. Republished with permission
from Executive Update, December 2002. ASAE & The Center for
Association Leadership www.asaenet.org
planning - the preparation to replace one leader with another -
is one of the most difficult challenges associations face in this
era of organizational management. Few events in the life of an association
are as critical, visible, or stressful as when the leader leaves.
The eyes of every member, employee, customer, supplier, and stakeholder
are focused on the outgoing executive director or CEO. How such
an exit is managed reveals the character and effectiveness of that
leader and association.
transition is an integral process that begins long before the outgoing
leader departs, and it presents a remarkable opportunity to move
forward with a new understanding of the complexities, challenges,
and changes the organization must address.
Case for Succession Planning
trends point toward leaner times for associations and the increasing
importance of making the investment to grow talent from within.
Between 1996 and 2006, the number of people between the ages of
55 and 64 in the United States will increase by 54 percent, while
those between ages 25 and 34 will experience a net decrease of 8.8
percent. Since fewer young people will enter the U.S. workforce
as potential replacements for the vast number retiring, many organizations
-especially those that are larger and older - may lose up to 50
percent of their executives in the next four to five years, according
to Nursing Management. This combination of factors places even more
importance on the need for associations to adopt a strategic succession
the same time, heightened competition for good talent makes general
staff retention an additional concern of associations. Associations
that don't invest in the development of their employees as a retention
tool are finding themselves at risk of high turnover rates and lost
organizational knowledge and experience.
date, organizations faced with executive retirement have simply
recruited experienced leaders from other companies. But attracting
talent from the competition is no longer a viable option. Not only
is this costly, but studies conducted by the Center for Creative
Leadership reveal that a staggering 66 percent of senior managers
hired from the outside usually fail within the first 18 months.
The smart way for association professionals to combat the looming
leadership - succession crisis is to identify and develop the internal
talent needed for key executive positions - and to start now, concludes
a 1999 article in Workforce magazine.
together, these trends indicate the growing importance of succession
planning as an intentional activity to be undertaken at all levels,
not just that of the CEO. It is, and should be, the concern of any
manager who wants to attract, retain, and develop a first-rate staff
now and in the future.
in North America today, the landscape of all three sectors - business,
government, and not-for-profit - is littered with the results of
poorly planned and managed leadership transition.
evidence abounds that succession planning and management development
can and do contribute to extraordinary business success. In their
book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Jim
Collins and Jerry Porras identified 18 organizations that have led
their industries for at least 50 to 100 years. They found that one
of the key reasons such visionary organizations enjoy long-term
success is because of their strong focus on succession planning
and leadership development. These companies develop, promote, and
carefully select managerial talent from inside the company to a
much greater degree than comparison companies, ensuring leadership
excellence and continuity.
Work of Leadership
can be said that the ultimate goal of leaders is to work themselves
out of their jobs. Effective leaders plan an exit that is as positive
and graceful as their entrance was. They come to the job committed
to the mission and goals of the organization and to their personal
goals. When those goals are realized, the transition to new leadership
becomes a primary focus. An excellent successor becomes, literally,
the ultimate leadership responsibility.
planning is an ongoing process of systematically identifying, assessing,
and developing talent to ensure leadership continuity for all key
positions in an association. Succession planning does not exist
in isolation. It must be interwoven with the association's strategic
objectives and should reflect the way the association needs to evolve
in order to achieve its strategic goals. This means that the kinds
of leadership styles, skills, and behaviors you want to develop
and promote might be different in the future from those in the existing
example, the board and current CEO must understand that the business
situation facing current leaders is very different from the one
faced by previous generations. Current conditions consist of the
rapid growth of emerging technologies, a demand for more public
accountability, heightened expectations by association members,
fierce competition (including time competition), and the stewardship
of sustainable growth and value, to mention a few. What do these
trends and changes mean for the type of leadership that will be
required for the organization to succeed in such a "new world?"
to Gordon Banks, retired CEO of the American Industrial Hygiene
Association (AIHA), when incoming association leaders are chosen,
the expectations of the organization's board, staff, and members
are usually high. "If at all possible, developing a mentoring
relationship between the successor and the departing executive can
pay handsome dividends," advises Banks.
explains that new leaders are expected to have a strong vision of
what a successful future will look like, and they are expected to
create a solid foundation for growth. They also are expected to
enhance existing memberships and use their talents and skills to
improve the association world in some way. "Leading with this
level of passion, intensity, and sense of purpose in order to meet
everyone's standards is, to say the least, a challenge," Banks
addition to predicting alternative business futures and finessing
culture dynamics within the association, current leaders can find
that a planned transfer of leadership or a leadership exit strategy
is difficult because of one key question: Does a shared vision and
consistent set of values exist between you as leader and the key
a Leadership-based Culture
way to ensure a successful transition is to build a culture of strong
leadership whereby employees show effective leadership at all levels.
Strengthening leadership capacity throughout the organization can
enable a highly successful transition by reducing dependency on
a single individual, such as a certain senior leader or key person.
are well served by assessing their current culture and clearly defining
their ideal culture. This will help define the competencies needed
today and in the future for the critical, key positions. Associations
then can choose, assess, and develop their leaders based on what
those organizations are to become in the future. Rather than develop
talent to fill specific positions, it is more prudent to develop
general competencies and to create flexibility and leadership potential
at all levels of your organization.
key issue related to succession is the transfer of knowledge. A
leadership transition often leads to the loss of critical tacit
knowledge that has built up throughout the years. Strategies such
as intentional documentation, attention to effective systems and
processes, and deliberate knowledge sharing are just a beginning.
Creating a so-called "knowledge-based culture" can deliver
dividends when an organization is faced with succession of a leader.
transfer should start with intention and a road map that outlines
the possible high-gain areas on which to focus. Creating a knowledge-based
culture within an association can streamline the duplication of
effort needed to reconstruct existing knowledge, and more importantly,
it can minimize the risk of critical association knowledge residing
in the heads of only a few staff members.
Five-point Plan for Effective Transitions
successful association leadership succession plan maps the landscape,
prepares for contingencies, and minimizes disputes. Simultaneously,
an association needs to enable an orderly transition, ensure continuity,
and build a legacy. Will it achieve these goals?
to Alana Healy, executive director of a Canadian micro-association,
innovative approaches to leadership such as shared or co-leadership
should be considered. Healy also states that a successful association
succession process begins with a solid foundation, intention, and
a deliberate architecture to ensure success.
my recent illness, we have had to be proactive in establishing a
leadership framework that looked like shared team responsibilities,"
Healy says. "This scenario has allowed me to re-think what
successful leadership will look like for our organization in the
and more nonprofit organizations, including the Maryland Association
of Nonprofit Organizations and San Francisco's Support Center for
Nonprofit Management, are beginning to offer services to help organizations
better manage executive transitions with the long-term goal of strengthening
operations through fine-tuned leadership succession structures.
following five-step process can provide a strong framework for effective
1: Building a Solid Association Foundation
key to a successful succession plan lies in building a solid foundation
of profitability and growth for the association. This happens long
in advance of the actual succession date.
2: Co-developing the Leader's Exit Strategy
should start with the end in mind. Any sound and successful strategy
begins with a goal or vision of the desired outcome. The association
leader co-develops a solid framework that acts as a road map for
successfully navigating the challenges of the modern association
world - including the exits and integrations of outgoing and incoming
CEOs or executive directors. An association's board and senior management
must be involved with and support this succession planning process.
Succession planning also must be "owned" in part by all
the board standpoint, defining a clear vision for future leadership
might mean setting up a board-appointed search committee that could
include staff representation. One task of this committee would be
reexamination of the association's defined vision, as well as identification
of major issues the organization likely will face in the next five
to 10 years. The vision statement would be shared widely and could
describe both the nature of the association 10 years hence and the
qualities required of the new chief executive to lead toward that
vision. If the current leader and senior staff team were right for
yesterday and today, the new leader must be equally right for tomorrow.
3: Minimizing the Association's Risk
many cases, the illness, serious injury, or even death of an association
leader can be devastating and can mean peril for an organization.
The risk-related component of the succession plan ensures that the
association, its members, and its staff are protected in the event
of an illness, accident, or disability related to the top staff
leader. Proper legal documentation, such as stakeholder agreements,
insurance policies for key persons, and business and financial plans,
must be in place. A good attorney and insurance consultant can help
organize and ensure an association's efforts are comprehensive and
4: Strengthening Systems and Processes
associations must deploy strong management and strong systems. Critical
factors that create value at the end of the day for any association
are continuous organizational improvement, membership focus, high-quality
value offerings and services, and the finding, hiring, and training
of the best possible staff. Essential competencies that an association
needs in the future include:
the successor's business and leadership skills
Planning the development and retention of key persons
Creating an effective association structure
Developing management systems for peak association performance
Documenting systems and procedures to create efficiencies and support
the effective transfer of knowledge
Implementing a proper strategic planning process that includes leadership
Hiring and training the best possible staff
Having accounting and financial controls and a comprehensive marketing
5: Transitioning the Leadership
next step is to identify gaps between the required leadership and
the existing talent pool. The organization must decide if a new
leader can be promoted from within or if an external search is required.
It also must ensure that the future vision of the organization is
fresh and vital, so the selection of the new leader is based on
choosing the right person to lead the organization to the new vision.
Another important task is determining the type of actions that will
ensure a good fit between a potential leader and the organization's
culture. Matching the leader to the desired culture is critical.
the incoming leader works with the outgoing leader for a period
before taking office, although the current CEO carries full responsibility
for the organization until the day he or she leaves. This helps
support some of the critical learning required by the new leader
for them to be successful.
spend much time thinking about how to drive the association successfully
forward, but they usually spend far too little time thinking about
the right time and way to leave. A successful transition can be
a seamless, productive, and unifying experience. Most people will
be remembered, in work and in life, for just a few words or deeds
that made a difference to others. The way leaders choose to say
good-bye is likely to be one of the ways they are remembered. If
they execute their final leadership responsibility with the same
care and attention that they gave to the first, their departure
can be an inspiring gift to the enterprise and the people in it.