Succession Planning – Are you ready?
I heard a wise person once say “all CEOs are interim CEOs.”
It’s true. While many of us have been in this radio industry for a long time, there will come a day when it will be our turn to step away from our jobs – whether it’s our choice, the boards or…we get hit by a bus. Yes, hit by a bus. I can’t tell you how many times the board chairs I served under would ask me, “What would the ministry do if you were hit by a bus?” I would ask them if they could make their question a little more spiritual like, “What if God calls you home” or “What happens if you walked with God and were no more” or something else, but why always a bus? I don’t know, but I still get nervous cycling in school zones.
But seriously, is your ministry prepared for a change in leadership?
I recommend that all ministries have two types of leadership succession plans in place – an Emergency Plan and a Long-Term Plan. Both plans should be board approved.
Let’s cover some key points for both.
- The Emergency (hit by a bus) Plan. There is nothing more jarring to a ministry then a sudden change – especially at the top. The more you can prepare for that change, the less the impact on the ministry. In this plan, the CEO should identify who they think would be best qualified to step in and lead the ministry on an interim basis. Look for people on the leadership team who could take over for a season. Identify them and let the board know. Then train them so they know what you know and some of the why’s and history behind your decisions. Put them in places of leadership with the board so the board can interact with them. Over time, they will build trust with the board. Not all of them may stay at your ministry for as long as you like. If they do leave, continue the process with the next leader who comes on board. You have to be discerning about whether or not you tell them you are looking at them as an interim. If you are really confident in their leadership, consider elevating them to a higher leadership position so the entire team will know. You never want to give them false hope because ultimately, it’s the board who decides the next CEO. Some people are comfortable being interim, but don’t want to be CEO full-time.
- The Long-Term Plan. Many of the Emergency Plan are also in this plan. The difference here is that this plan is more permanent. In the Emergency Plan, an interim is named until the board has time to find the new replacement. This process can take time. There are excellent Christian recruiting firms that can be enlisted to help in this process. Since most of the board members are not broadcasters, I believe a plan should include names of people and organizations in broadcasting who would be possible candidates. CMB and NRB should be on your list for your organization to contact to find possible candidates. Also, think about age in your long-term plan. There are federal rules about age discrimination so be careful, but also be thinking about the future and make sure you are raising up leaders of all ages who could be great candidates. One of the rules of thumb regarding hiring internal candidates versus external relates to culture. If the board is happy with the culture, internal candidates have the edge. If there needs to be a culture change, then external is preferred. There is also a lot of discussion on whether the former CEO should still be available after the new CEO takes over. Some boards prefer a clean start while others like to see the former CEO help with fundraising or other unique areas. Those ideas should be discussed in the long-term plan as to what the ministry’s thoughts are. The new CEO should be aware of those so they know the board’s expectations. One more point. Your board is really your legacy on the ministry. Every ministry has a unique DNA and you can leave your thumbprint on your ministry by letting the board see into your thought processes and how the ministry functions. When you do, it will help create a mold for them as they decide the next leader for the ministry.
Succession planning is not just a CEO item, but part of the culture of the entire ministry. What if the PD leaves? What if the Development Director leaves to find another job? What if the accountant gets hit by an ice cream truck? Is there training going on at the next level? Successful stations are raising up current leaders to new challenges and at the same time developing future leaders at all levels. The PD is mentoring the APD. The Accountant is training the Bookkeeper. The Technology Team is sharing knowledge among all the members. Stations that stay small have the mentality of the leader keeping all the knowledge to themselves and not trusting other staff members to know what they know. They are protective and controlling which limits not just the staff, but also the ministries impact and potential. When ministries get past that insecure, territorial mentality, they grow.
I understand it can be a bit unsettling when the board chair tells you it’s time for us to think about succession planning. You’re thinking – ut oh – time to call U-haul. Rather than thinking of it negatively, think of it as a way for you to speak into the ministry after you are gone – which may be many years from now. Remember, it’s not our ministry anyway. We don’t own it. We are all just in our positions for as long as God allows. If you haven’t read the book A Tale of Three Kings by Gene Edwards, I encourage you to do so. It will help you as you do succession planning.
- Develop an Emergency Plan now!
- Work with your board to work on a Long-Term plan.
- Watch out for busses!
Tim McDermott has been serving in the nonprofit world for over 30 years. He can be reached at [email protected]