Event Recap: Top 4 Insights From Succession Planning Panel

NYTAP Succession Planning Panel
December 6, 2012

On Thursday, 12/6/12, NYTAP hosted a panel discussion at Idealist’s NYC headquarters: Succession Planning – The Good, The Bad & The Non-Existent. Moderated by NYTAP board member Laurel Molloy, the three featured panelists represented a diverse cross-section of experience and perspectives on the topic.

John Corwin has served as an interim CEO for numerous organizations during times of transition, and provides consulting services drawing on 40 years of experience in the nonprofit and public sectors.

Antonio Thompson began serving as Executive Director of The Brooklyn Steppers following a sudden change in leadership, and is currently Associate Director of Development at Kingsborough Community College.

Janet Waterston is a human resources and organizational development consultant who has guided many nonprofit and corporate clients through the succession planning process.

The discussion began with panelists defining “Succession Planning,” and clarifying how it differs from Executive Transition Management and Contingency Planning.

During the first hour, Waterston, Corwin, and Thompson discussed their own experiences with leadership transitions. They provided insights about different approaches to succession (e.g., utilizing an external consultant to guide the process, appointing an interim director, promoting from within an organization). They also discussed some of the challenges they have encountered along the way, ranging from overcoming a simple lack of planning to navigating stakeholders’ active resistance to the process.

Following the initial presentations, Laurel Molloy invited members of the audience, who included nonprofit professionals and consultants, to ask questions and share their own experiences. From the panelists’ insights and the input from attendees, four key take-aways emerged:

1. Frequently, the biggest obstacles for developing a succession plan are perceived lack of time (i.e., “We’re too busy to worry about a succession plan”) and resistance from individuals who see it as a threat to their livelihood. In reality, it needn’t be a cumbersome process, and should ideally happen before anyone plans to leave their role.

2. Succession planning should be viewed as an opportunity to evaluate and optimize current operations. As such, it is really a type of capacity building, positioning an organization to handle the broad range of circumstances it might face.

3. There is no single “one-size-fits-all” succession plan for every organization. Each group must develop its own plan based on its structure and resources, and based on what is happening in the external environment.

4. The succession planning process should be initiated and led from above (e.g., Executive Directors, Board Members) with input from other staff members. Consultants working with an organization, whether in human resources or other capacities like development or strategic planning, might be in a unique position to prompt the discussion as well.

NYTAP would like to thank Janet Waterston, John Corwin, and Antonio Thompson for sharing their time and expertise.

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