It happens to all of us – and no one can escape. Our seasons to lead come and they eventually go.
It can be difficult to come to terms with this inevitable reality.
However, as church leaders we must be thinking about the future.
We are all in seasons that will eventually end. Preparing for those seasonal transitions is what succession planning is all about.
“Succession planning is a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key leadership positions in the company. Succession planning increases the availability of experienced and capable employees that are prepared to assume these roles as they become available.” Wikipedia
It is estimated that 65% of nonprofit organizations have no succession plan in place to replace senior leadership. This is a frightening thought when you consider the responsibility and influence church leaders have.
I remember when I was working on a church staff and our Children’s Ministry Director suddenly left.
If you think about all of the moving parts in a children’s ministry you can appreciate the importance of having someone in the queue ready to go.
We did not have a succession plan for this person and for several months we scrambled to cover and ensure nothing fell through the cracks.
When church boards neglect the important task of planning for the succession of key church leaders they put their church at risk.
These risks can be related to the quality of services, management of resources or the loss of church members when an endeared staff member leaves.
Churches are often the victim of a failure to plan. And as the saying goes, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
It was recently announced that Willow Creek has a succession plan for this mega ministry that has been seven years in the making.
This church had the forethought to recognize the importance of planning for the future by identifying and developing the necessary talent to take over when the inevitable time came. That time is now and they are ready because they had a plan.
Organizations use succession planning to prepare for inevitable transitions in leadership and put structures in place to develop skills and competencies in leaders.
The simple truth is that all church leaders will eventually accept a different position, retire and sometimes die. Failing to address this important issue is an act of irresponsibility of the church board.
Organizations use succession planning to forecast the supply and demand of talent for key positions. This can be the senior pastor or any other person who has key responsibilities in the church.
In order for succession planning to fulfill its purpose, there needs to be a formal process to assess church employees and their readiness for advancement within the church.
A succession plan defines these competencies and assesses the necessary mix of knowledge and skill for leadership staff and recommends the training needed to master those competencies.
6 Tips For Creating An Effective Succession Plan
1. Make it a Priority
The first step is to recognize the priority of succession planning.
Church boards need to commit the necessary time and resources to this by anticipating leadership transitions.
Focus should be on identifying which positions warrant a succession plan and identifying those church leaders who may be good candidates for higher levels of responsibilities.
Use that information to create a detailed and specific developmental plan to ensure church staff is ready to transition when a change in leadership is necessary.
Succession planning not only needs to be a priority, it should be part of a church’s long term strategy.
2. Devote Time to Planning
As with most organizational priorities, there is a necessary time commitment for succession planning initiatives.
Time should be allocated to church board agendas, leadership meetings and human resource management to ensure the church is ready for a leadership transition.
Conversations should focus on asking the questions – who, what and when.
Who (which) employees demonstrate potential for higher levels of leadership?
What type of development do they need?
And when is the optimal time-frame for their readiness for promotion?
3. Create a Development Process
Create a defined and specific talent management process that includes identification of skills and aptitudes needed to meet the predetermined competencies.
For example, if the position requires a skill of preparing and presenting a sermon message, the candidate may need development of that competency.
There should also be conversations that help to identify potential talent as well as discussing strengths, weaknesses, skills, experience and developmental needs of the available employee pool.
Employee developmental plans should be part of a structured performance management system. This focus should also include employee development by increasing employee responsibilities and providing mentoring for employees with the potential for promotion.
4. Create Employee Development Database
Spend the time to create a database that tracks employee skill development.
Use this information to facilitate conversations about potential candidates and track their development process.
5. Provide a Mentor and a Coach
Leadership development is a process that often is the result of opportunities to practice key leadership competencies.
Provide identified employees with leadership opportunities and a mentor to help them to build on their strengths and identify areas to improve.
This mentor/coach should be the go to person for employee to ask questions, seek council or clarify role responsibilities.
A good mentor can help facilitate a smooth transition.
6. Structured Transition Plan
Transitioning leadership can be a challenge if there is not a plan to address the obvious issues that come with passing the baton.
Spend the time to create processes that help the employee orient to the new job. For higher levels of leadership this may take months if not years.
As in the example of Willow Creek, their succession plan was seven years in the making.
This simple step can minimize the downtime associated with leadership transitions and can help the newly promoted employee to hit the ground running.
Organizations fail when they are unprepared for leadership transitions, fail to have a process to assess internal talent and lack vital communication about the organization’s plan for leadership transition.
It is difficult to watch someone step down who has such enormous influence but when that time comes, it is important to have the next leader ready to go. That won’t happen unless you have a plan!
Does your church have a succession plan?