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Of NGOs and Succession Planning

Posted on 19 September, 2020 at 06:36

By Kudakwashe Ngoma

Succession planning may be simply defined as a strategy for intentionally identifying and developing future leaders for an organisation. It is critical to note at this point that this strategy is not just for the top echelons but for all major roles at all levels. It does not matter what the size or stage of development is, one cannot sustainably run an organisation without talented people ready to move into key positions when the current occupants leave. Even the most successful institutions can run off a cliff if they don’t have a solid succession plan in place. This is a process of preparing for all contingencies by preparing high-potential workers for advancement.

In a recent workshop for a major institution and its programme implementation partners, that was facilitated by KFM Consultants, the presenters indicated the imperativeness of having a clear succession plan as part of the roadmap to sustainability. It was noted from the feedback how sensitive and uncomfortable the discussion may be with most leaders, especially in the Zimbabwean or African context. The major positive, however, was that the topic has been gaining more coverage lately particularly in response to the Covid19 pandemic that has hugely impacted the traditional way of working, and has significantly changed the viewpoint towards institutionalism.

One of the key success factors for organisations during a crisis, as we have learnt from the way various organisations have responded to the Coronavirus, lies in organisational structure’s flexibility, that is, its ability to transform and fit a particular scenario. This flexibility is not a chance circumstance but an intentional process that starts from the top of the leadership pyramid downwards, involving key personnel capacity development and preparation. This developing and nurturing second-line leaders will bring in sustainability in the organization. It will ensure that the vision, mission and objectives are carried out with the same rigor and effectiveness as they were with present leadership.

How to Effectively Kickstart Succession Planning for Your Organisation.

1.       Know who you are as an organisation

When it comes to effective succession planning, it’s important to recognize that it’s not a one-size-fits-all process. To get the most benefit from succession planning, the top management must begin with a having clear idea of who your organisation really is in order to plan properly for its future. The identity of any organisation lies in its mission and its vision. Consider the instance of a trust for the disabled versus a disaster response organisation like Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF). The trust is an organisation that promises consistency and reliability to its beneficiaries, while MSF focuses on hard-charging, quick-shifting circumstances. There’s no right or wrong here, it just means different types of organisations seek different types of leadership. By understanding “who” your organisation is, you can better identify its potential new leaders.


2.       Look at your entire organization

The next step is to assess your current workforce to identify key positions and key employees, recognizing that sometimes key employees are not in upper leadership but in support positions. Yes, you need succession plans in place for the corner office, but what about your finance assistant who never met a problem he couldn’t solve? Or the receptionist that every stakeholder loves and asks for by name? The key to a successful succession plan is that you take a look at all of your employees and make sure you haven’t missed any important person or position.


3.       Determine your succession planning strategy

There are many ways you can go about succession planning. The best succession plan is the one that fits your organization. To determine what will work best for your business, consider these questions:

Do you want a complete succession plan that includes every position and employee in your organization? Does your company have particular vulnerabilities, such as a large percentage of retiring employees in a particular division? What’s your ultimate goal? What outcome are you hoping for?

Ultimately, any succession plan needs to focus on what you can do to proactively preserve the wealth of institutional knowledge that drives your organisation’s productivity.


4.       Identify your rock stars

Once you’ve identified key positions, you need to find two to three employees who would make good successors for each of those critical roles. This requires you to look at employee performance objectively, and to take personal attachments out of it. Often, employees who are the most extroverted are the ones who get considered for promotion. But sometimes your strongest performers aren’t the most visible. That’s why you need to carefully consider every individual for both skills and emotional intelligence. Your highest-potential employees will be lifelong learners who are both self-aware and socially aware. They’ll also be great problem-solvers, adaptable and able to take on more responsibility. You’ll want to avoid promoting people who tend to get involved in office drama, resist change and spread negativity.


5.       Step up professional development efforts

Ideally, you have already been investing in the professional development of those you have selected as your succession choices. Now that preparation needs to be ramped up. Job rotation is a good way to help your candidates gain additional knowledge and experience. And connecting them with mentors can boost their abilities in the critical area of soft skills: The best leaders have strong communication skills, as well as polished interpersonal abilities, such as empathy and diplomacy.


The above five steps are by no means conclusive. They stand only as guidelines on how an organisation can effectively rollout their succession planning strategy when they choose to do so. For further insights or if you would like expert guidance on succession planning and other governance matters for your organisation, please get in touch with KFM Consultants at information@kfm.co.zw

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