Are You Thinking About Succession?

In the 18 months I’ve been at Mission Capital as the Director of Consulting Services, one hot request keeps knocking on our doors: Succession Planning.

Succession planning is defined as developing talent to replace executive and other key leadership positions when they transition to another role or leave the company, whether by choice or not. It is relevant to all companies, from the largest to the smallest, in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors.

Unlike a certain TV show may have you believe, succession planning does not have to be the dysfunctional fight to the death that the Roys make it out to be. The process is intended to create a talent pipeline of successors that will keep the organization running with little to no interruption when inevitable staff changes occur.

Defined Departure

As a consulting practice, we’re approached with requests for this type of support in a variety of ways. Some of our projects are based on a Defined Departure, a scheduled time for the exit of the CEO/Executive Director, often due to retirement. Today, this is largely driven by the impending mass-exodus of the Baby Boomer generation. These highly engaged, passionate, smart leaders have been leading us for a very long time. They’ve bravely shepherded us through innovation before innovation was an exciting concept for nonprofits (ask them, often it was thought of as SCARY.) We support Defined Departures with a highly customized, hands-on process that results in a personalized guide, timeline, resources, and coaching to support the scheduled departure.

Succession Guides

Other executive leaders are thinking about retirement, but not right now. They are also thinking about their own C-Suite and the continuum of support needed to ensure a low-to-no disruption when inevitably a leader moves on. For these projects, we’re preparing Succession Guides, which include a customized process for emergency and planned departures.

Relevant to this process, SHRM created a Succession Planning Toolkit, which includes 5 major business case points for doing so ahead of an emergent need:

  • Adapting to demographic changes and talent scarcity.
  • Identifying skill gaps and training needs.
  • Retaining institutional knowledge in a knowledge economy.
  • Boosting morale and retention by investing in employees.
  • Replacing unique or highly specialized competencies.

Along with creating Succession Guides, Talent Development assessments are also helpful in preparing for that 4th bullet point, “Boosting morale and retention by investing in employees.” Check out SHRM’s Special Report on Leadership Talent Development for more about this important piece of the puzzle. I especially appreciate the “Nine Box” Grid on page 20.

Succession Planning Cohorts

Succession Planning Cohorts are a new trend in addressing succession needs within the grant-making space. Funders such as Episcopal Health Foundation are generously investing capacity building funds in the future health and wellness of their grantees. This approach allows us to guide a cohort of grantees through the process of creating and adopting their own Succession Guides. Think of us a guide on the side, with the bulk of the work being done by the grantee themselves.

How can we help? Has this blog sparked something for you – maybe you’re thinking about succession now too? Please reach out to me at and let’s figure out what approach you might take to ensure the long-term success of your organization.

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