Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Succession Planning 101

By Emily Douglas-McNab — November 06, 2012 3 min read
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“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” --Benjamin Franklin

About a month ago, I had an interesting conversation with a chief human resource professional about succession planning. Her school district had seen a great deal of change in senior level staff members for a variety of reasons, and she was looking for great examples, policies, and practices around how other districts have overcome similar situations to quickly and effectively fill integral positions. Her concern was that if the district did not think through staff growth and replacement, it may fail to provide the best services possible to students and employees. I recommended that the district develop a strategic plan, but explained that unfortunately, I only knew of businesses, hospitals, and nonprofits with succession plans. I offered to do a little research though and get back to her with my findings.

Image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net user “jscreationszs

What is Succession Planning?
A succession plan is a long-term strategy for identifying and developing--both personally and professionally--current hi-potential staff for specific positions. Some note that the purpose is to “build a bench” as well as identify not only the right person for the right seat on the bus, but the next person who will sit in that seat. Historically, succession planning was only done for high-level executive positions. But ideally, it should encompass any positions that hold a high strategic importance or require a very specific set of skills, knowledge, abilities, and other characteristics important to the organization.

Why Plan?
Succession planning can be important for a variety of reasons, including:
• To manage tacit knowledge by capturing, preserving, protecting, and transferring information from high-performing, experienced employees to high-potential employees.
• To retain top staff by providing them a specific and dedicated growth plan.
• To increase internal staff satisfaction, engagement, and loyalty by involving them in the future of the organization as well as developing them professionally and personally.
• To ensure you can replace employees with specialized skills, knowledge, abilities, and other characteristics important to the organization.
• To create a back-up plan in case of a staff emergency--someone leaves quickly due to relocation, dismissal, or yes, even death.
• To better know your organization’s employees and talent gaps before issues arise.

My Findings:
Here are a few of the findings from my research into succession planning, particularly in school districts.
• In a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management survey*, only 22 percent of all non-profit respondents noted they had a succession plan, compared to 44 percent of publically-owned, for-profit organizations.
• In a December 2010 online survey from the American Management Association, more than 71 percent of respondents** said they believe that due to competition and the changing environment, “leadership succession is more important than ever before.”
• In 2009, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools released a report on their work with New Leaders for New Schools and the Winthrop University Leaders for Tomorrow program to develop 100 principals to fill open positions due to staff relocations, retirements, dismissals, and district growth.
• Last revised and adopted on January 10, 2012, Farmington Public Schools in Farmington, Michigan has a well-defined Superintendent Succession Planning Policy in their Board of Education Policies and Procedures manual. Specifically, the manual notes that, “The Board is committed to maintaining a state of readiness in the event of a planned or unplanned change of the Superintendent. The Board shall establish and maintain a succession plan to ensure the orderly transition of leadership and achievement of the District’s mission and goals.”
• The Social Security Administration has information pertaining to 13 questions around succession planning. The questions go through the what, why, and how of succession planning.

Do you know of any other great resources or examples of districts that excel at succession planning?

In my next blog post, I plan to discuss the Gallup article, “A Succession Plan that Works: The Most Effective and Scientific Way to Select and Develop your Company’s Future Leaders” by Randall Beck and Barry Conchie. It’s worth a read if you have time!

*31 percent of survey respondents (survey sample size, n=426) came from educational services; health care and social assistance; public administration; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and religious, grant making, civic, professional and similar organizations.
** 24.1 percent of survey respondents can from educational services; health care and social assistance; and Government/Public Administration.

The opinions expressed in K-12 Talent Manager are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.