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Feb 1, 2013

Succession planning is a key precondition for a successful CEO search

I am following a discussion group that asks which makes the better nonprofit CEO: One hired from outside of the organization; or promoting someone from within the organization?  Much of the discussion was about searches and whether the organization had qualified candidates.

There is one point that I do not see in this string of comments: succession planning. I know that boards love to have a “nationwide search” to show that they are not bumpkins, but the comments that nonprofits do not have deep benches is really an observation that there is no succession planning in the organization.

Any organization should have a succession plan in case the boss is hit by a bus. To have that, there needs to be someone who is being trained, groomed, and engaged to be able to step in. At a minimum, this person would be a qualified interim CEO.

As important, people are not attracted to nonprofits for the money. Learning and career advancement are prime motivators. The ability to move up is essential to job satisfaction. If the CEO is never hired from within, there is a glass ceiling with the expected harm to morale. I think it is the responsibility of an organization to provide exposure and training for staff to move up. And there must always be a succession plan for each senior position.

But in response to the concern about “life-timers”, keeping someone in an organization for a long career can have two causes of which only one is positive: the life-timer who has stayed because the challenges have grown with the person’s skills and responsibilities (good); the life-timer who has found a safe spot and never develops but never challenges anyone and so persists (not so good).

If this is done, then one can have a search that finds the best candidate, whether internal or external, but the internal candidate will always be qualified.