Sunday, February 24, 2008

Strategic Planning and Succession Planning

Merianne Liteman, in her article “The Board’s Role in Succession Planning” makes some important connections between strategic planning and effective executive transition. While her primary audience is arts organizations, her advice is helpful for any nonprofit. She writes:
"A plan for transition to new leadership can’t emerge fully grown … . For leadership transitions to succeed, they must be consistent with and, indeed, grow out of the organization’s core strategy—its vision, mission, and values—as well as a clear understanding of its current status. This strategy is best expressed through a formal plan, which takes into account where the organization has been, where it is now, and where it wants to go. With a thoughtful and up-to-date strategic plan in place, an organization has a solid platform from which to launch a successful transition effort. Without such a plan, any succession effort it undertakes will rest on quicksand."
She goes on to say:
"A current strategic plan is essential for a smooth transition. The process of creating a strategic plan—or of reexamining and updating an existing one—offers an arts organization the chance to take a critical look at itself, reconsider its vision, assess its strengths and potential challenges, explore opportunities for growth, rethink its policies in line with current realities, and address issues that are critical for its future."
Sometimes nonprofit boards will leave this kind of strategic decision-making up to the new executive director. And this why some executive transitions end up as disasters. Liteman says that it’s a real mistake for organizations to assume that the new director is the one who should come up with the answers:
"Addressing these questions up front will yield dividends when the board makes critical decisions about the skills and competencies a potential successor should possess. Sometimes boards decide to leave such questions for the new director to address once he or she arrives. Bad idea; that’s like asking the pilot to decide on a destination after all the passengers are seated."
The succession plan may or may not be part of the nonprofit’s formal strategic plan. If not, it still needs to align with the strategic plan as Merianne Liteman points out. To download a copy of the article, go to:

Here are some links to resources on succession planning and executive transition. You can use these to educate board and staff leadership on this critical challenge as part of the effort to gear up for strategic planning or succession planning – or both.
• The Texas Commission on the Arts has compiled a number of leadership transition resources at
• TransitionGuides, a consulting and educational services company specializing in executive transition at
• Leading Transitions, a firm specializing in providing technical assistance in the areas of executive transition management and succession planning at
• Compass Point Nonprofit Services provides access to research and articles on executive transitions, as well as templates for emergency succession plans and interim executive director job descriptions at