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The Challenges of Tomorrow

The first challenge for any organization is to achieve a standard of excellence in whatever market or sector they are engaged in. The second challenge is how to stay there. Companies and organizations who do not learn how to overcome that second challenge will find that their ability to stay on top will erode over time and ultimately the standards that they established, and their customer bases and market position will fall.

For large organizations this means setting up extensive succession plans to ensure that corporate leadership and even more importantly, corporate memory, is maintained. Such plans often involve executive mentoring and leadership tracking and training elements. The leaders of tomorrow are identified, groomed and coached to achieve their potential and their seat at the executive table. For these large organizations it is relatively easy to identify the resources to develop and implement their plan and to ensure that it is actually carried to fruition.

But what about smaller organizations and associations? They too need succession plans, maybe even more so since the loss of a key person in a staff of three could severely limit that organizationís capacity to continue to maintain its operations. The answer is that you do the same things as the big boys and girls, only more effectively and obviously more cheaply and efficiently.

The best place to start is gathering some basic information about the organization. This will include preparing a list of key positions within the organization and an inventory of the skills required for these positions. The organization will also have to survey its existing staff and volunteer base to determine if any of these personnel could step into the shoes of one of the key players in the event of their departure from the organization. There should also be some tracking of individual staff that shows their tenure and potential retirement dates so that planned departures will have a planned replacement.

This groundwork will help to identify gaps in organizational capacity and armed with this information any organization, large or small can begin to put together its succession plan. This plan should include coaching, mentoring and development training as well as plans to support any identified succession candidates.

For large organizations they already have a big pool of talent to choose from as potential feeders into their succession stream. Smaller organizations may have to find their future leaders outside of their organization so that they can initiate their training and development plans. This is often a daunting task for small organizations that already have trouble attracting volunteers and funding to support their programs.

But many small organizations have managed to overcome this by reaching into their membership base and recruiting some of their members who are interested in their issues, and have the required skills, to come on board with the organization. Other have tapped into provincial or regional networks of organizations in their field and found employees who may be limited in career progression opportunities within their own organization, or are just looking for a new challenge. Still others have looked to past and current board members who know their organization and may be willing to consider a senior staff position.

In addition to recruiting from this expanded talent pool, organizations can also look at similarly sized and structured organizations that have already put together a succession plan. They have found a way to do it despite operating with many of the same limited human and financial resources. There are always lessons we can learn about what to do and what not to do by talking to our friends and managers in other organizations.

Some surveys have suggested that over seventy percent of organizations in the not-for-profit sector have not developed a succession plan and I suspect that number is even higher for smaller volunteer-based organizations. That, however, should not bring you any great comfort if you are involved with a smaller organization. In fact it should give you some incentive to get moving on your succession plan. If you can get ahead of the curve you may be one of the success stories of the future while others fall by the wayside.

Building and implementing a succession plan is about dealing with the challenges of tomorrow before they creep up on you and create the kind of chaos that could threaten the credibility and viability of your organization. Think about it like insurance. Would you feel safe leaving your home if you were not insured against fire and theft? Why would you leave your organization subject to the unknown perils of the future?

Creating a succession plan is also an investment in your organization that will always pay off and who doesnít like a guaranteed investment? It may take a little time and effort now but sooner or later the key people in your organization will leave for one reason or another. That is inevitable. Having a succession plan is just good business.


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