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Planning for the future: Steps to a successful succession plan

Maeve O'Byrne
Published:  04/17/2017

Originally published in the April 17, 2015 AHP Connect

A well thought out succession plan is a tool every organization should have. The following is an excerpt from an article that outlines the key elements of the succession planning process. It's authored by Maeve O'Byrne, president, Nanaimo & District Hospital Foundation, Nanaimo, British Columbia. The full article is available on AHP’s website.

It is important to put succession plans in place for all key positions within an organization, but it is especially important at the top. As development professionals, we recognize how legacy giving makes such a huge difference to our institutions. But how many of us think about our legacy as leaders? At the chief executive* level, succession planning is critical for the ongoing success and longevity of any health care foundation. (*Editor’s note: Since titles vary, this article will use the term “CEO” to indicate the foundation leader.)

As baby boomers continue to depart from top positions, it is important for organizations to take the time to ensure the transition between CEOs is well thought out and supports both the legacy of the departing CEO and the continued success of the organization. So, the question arises: Whose job it is to ensure that a solid, realistic and well thought out succession plan is in place?

Getting started

Anecdotal information indicates transitions are rarely planned and often unexpected or poorly structured. A small survey of hospital foundations in British Columbia found that 50 percent didn’t have a succession plan in place; explanations ranged from “don’t think it’s important” to “it’s on the radar for the current year.”

Unfortunately, delaying the process can be detrimental—with lack of continuity the least of the problems that can arise when organizations are unprepared for the inevitable transition.

Although leadership transition is traditionally a board role, it is important to include the CEO as well. In fact, 80 percent of those surveyed agreed that any CEO succession plan should involve the CEO as well as the board.

This does not mean the board needs to find a carbon copy of current leadership. Including the CEO can give board members a much broader understanding of the responsibilities and challenges involved with leading the organization and may help them decide on the skills required for a new CEO to lead the organization into the future.

Finding agreement

Often, the most difficult part of succession planning is agreement between the board and the CEO that the process needs to take place. Both the board and the CEO may feel some anxiety about this responsibility—with the board concerned their CEO is leaving them and the CEO concerned their job is in jeopardy or the board is unhappy with their performance.

Succession planning means none of these things. Rather, it is an important part of the strategic planning process. It is a sign of the maturity and good health of an organization, as well as a demonstration of trust between the board and the CEO as they look to the future.

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Meet The Author

Maeve O'Byrne

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