The loss of someone who plays such a key role can make it very difficult for an organization to maintain even basic operations, never mind muster the resources and clear thinking needed to plan for an orderly succession. An organized transition can sustain morale and ensure the continuity of services.
To ensure an organized transition, even in the case of an abrupt departure, ensure a succession plan is part of your crisis management plan. A succession plan is a set of activities, policies and instructions for making the search for replacement leaders as smooth as possible. The plan should include:
- Develop working relationships with consultants, volunteers, and temp agencies who can help you “fill the gap” while the search for a permanent replacement is underway
- Develop procedures for handling the contacts, projects, and files of departing staff members so that nothing gets lost in the shuffle
- A pre-set, developed policy that lays out the expected approach for searching for and hiring an executive director
- Ensure that at least one person within the organization, or a board member or retired director, continues to shadow the executive director and understands that s/he is the designated interim leader in the case of an abrupt departure
- Groom talented staff for leadership positions – consider creating a management development program, however small or informal
- Have an emergency fund available or know what you would need to cut to cover the cost of finding a replacement, including fees for search agencies and listings, travel expenses, severance pay, and the additional salary required for an interim leader