Watch it Now: Is Your Organization Worth Preserving? Prepare with Succession Planning


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At a recent Nonprofit Maven workshop, hosted by Common Good Vermont, Paula Cope of  Cope & Associates, Inc. presented Succession Planning and Management: Understanding the Whole Picture. Known as the “Paula Revere” of succession planning, Paula has worked with hundreds of organizations and sums up core concepts of organizational health that every nonprofit will want to understand and act on for your long AND short term future.

Known in the trade as SP&M, succession planning and management is a leadership building process that improves the “bench strength” of your organization in significant ways. The goal of SP&M is to hire the “right people with the right skills at the right time for the right reasons”. SP&M enables good hiring decisions, the development of a ready and able talent pool with mission critical skills and competencies that can be intentionally developed through training, mentoring and coaching. A plan enables the transfer of knowledge between the generations–of critical importance right now. Look at the stats:

  • 76 million “Baby Boomers” are eligible to retire  this year yet there are only 46 million “Gen X-ers” available to take their place
  • By 2020, 40% of the workforce will be of retirement age–yet working longer!

In fact, only half of public/private businesses have such a plan in place and, as a result, are exposing their organizations to avoidable risk.

The best SP&M processes are designed to perpetuate worth organizations take a short and long term, developmental view–“a marathon and not a sprint”.  The ideal process is supported by board and upper level management as well as a diverse mix of staff who serve as the leadership team or “Steering Committee” and  look closely at system wide linkages, vulnerable areas of the organization and recommend concrete recommendations that focus resources on the mission critical areas of your organization. The SP&M effort is coordinated with the strategic plan. Typically the Board focuses on CEO succession and the staff works on plans for succession of key staff positions (in larger organizations, this process digs four levels down).

Systems Approach: Paula Cope recommends “A Systems Approach to Succession Planning & Management” (see slide 12) to identify the areas that require both immediate and long term focus. The process starts with a charter or Board Policy (see slide 15) that addresses the importance of succession planning as a way of attracting, developing, and retaining leaders within the organization.

What are the steps?
  • Policy: Develop a policy on succession planning
  • Steering Committee: Charter a representative, self-nominating and trusted Steering Committee of big and systemic thinkers with power and authority
  • Educate: Educate Steering Committee about Succession Planning
  • Plan: Build a work plan with goals and milestones
  • Communicate: Develop a communications plan and ensure a transparent process (don’t let the grape vine take charge of your process).
  • Data: Collect data that you are able to track and measure, including: Review strategic plan, trends, SWOT assessment, workforce analysis, review job description/competencies/ staffing and organizational chart
  • Key Positions: Find opportunities everywhere to make improvements in the organization before determining key positions to address. Identify key positions to be addressed and review current job responsibilities and position descriptions
  • Competencies: Review competencies for each position and select competencies required for the position.
  • Sort: With a sorting tool, match employees and their ratings with the competency needs of the key positions.
  • Gaps: Necessary skills and areas of development

Organizations of all sizes can utilize SP&M strategy to varying degrees. The process can be imagined as a “pipeline” of leadership development that will have a profound impact on your organization.  The whole process is scalable to suit small (even micro) and large organizations.  In the smallest organization, it might only take 3-6 months and in a larger organization, up to 3 years. The process requires board and senior management buy-in and, if you are large enough, leadership from the Human Resources staff.  The good news is that there is a growing body of know-how and variety of useful resources to get you started, including the video presentation and supporting slides produced by Paula Cope.



  • Atwood, Christee Gabour.  Succession Planning Basics.  Alexandria: ASTD Press, 2007.
  • Bishop, Charles H. Jr.  Making Change Happen One Person at a Time.  Boston: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Bower, Joseph L.  The CEO Within.  Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2007
  • Brown, John. How to Run Your Business So You Can Leave It In Style. Golden: Business Enterprise Press, 2004.
  • Brown, John and Kevin Short. Cash Out Move On.  Golden: Business Enterprise Press, 2008.
  • Carey, Dennis and Dayton Ogden. CEO Succession. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Charan, Ram.  Leaders at All Levels.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008.
  • Charan, Ram; Stephen Drotter, and James Noel. The Leadership Pipeline. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2001.
  • Collins, James. Good to Great. New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
  • Collins, James and Jerry Poiras. Built to Last. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.
  • Fulmer, Robert M. & Conger, Jay. A. Growing Your Company’s Leaders. New York: AMACOM, 2004.
  • Rothwell, William J. Effective Succession Planning. New York: AMACOM, 2001.
  • Sobol, Mark; Harkins, Phil; and Conley, Terence ed.  Linkage Inc.’s Best Practices for Succession Planning.  San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2007.


  • Ayres, G. R. & Jones, M. J., “Face the Fear,” Trusts & Estates: Special Report Transferring Business Interests (2007, February):  50 – 57.
  • Atwood, Christie Gabour, “Succession Planning Basics,” Training & Development (November 2007):  55-58.
  • Bolt, Jim, “How Strong is Your Bench? Trends in Executive Development,” (2005) [Electronic Version], Retrieved Nov. 16, 2007.
  • Cavanaugh, Bonnie Brewer, “The Long Run, “ Best’s Review, (2008, December); 38-40.
  • Dychtwald, K., Erickson, T. J., & Morison, R., “Workforce Crisis: How to beat the shortage of skill and talent,” Harvard Business School Press (2006)
  • Forbes staff writer, “Why Succession Planning Matters,”, (2008, January).
  • Gale Cengage Learning, “Succession Planning is vital to avoid the expense of hiring and paying off CEOs., William Reed Ltd.,(2008, October).
  • Hira, Nadira A., “You Raised Them, Now You Manage Them,” Fortune Magazine, (2007, May):  38 – 46.
  • Kiger, Patrick J., “The Coming Knowledge Drain,” Workforce Management (November 2005):  52-54.
  • L’Allier, Ph.D., J. J., & Kolosh, K.), “Preparing for Baby Boomer Retirement,” Chief Learning Officer (2005)  [Electronic Version] Retrieved from on August 24, 2007.
  • Million Dollar Round Table Staff, “Service Guaranteed,” “The Right Fit,” “Preparing the Next Generation,” “Family Matters,” Round the Table (published by The Million Dollar Round Table, (Nov/Dec 2007):  24-31.

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