Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Teams Must Follow Best Practices in Succession Planning: Executive Departures Are Inevitable, but Your Organization Doesn't Have to Flounder during the Transition

Magazine article Behavioral Healthcare Executive

Teams Must Follow Best Practices in Succession Planning: Executive Departures Are Inevitable, but Your Organization Doesn't Have to Flounder during the Transition

Article excerpt

Few decisions are more important for a behavioral healthcare organization than the choice of who will lead it today and for the future. When senior executives leave an organization through retirement, choice or more controversial reasons, how well that organization manages the transition will reverberate for years to come.

"An organization that affects people's day-to-day life has a responsibility to protect the organization from anything that would put that mission at risk or compromise its ability to fulfill that mission, including untimely turnover," says Greg Miller, CEO of Penn-Mar Human Services. "If the organization is caught off guard, it could be a serious issue."

For example, Molly O'Neill, now president and CEO of First Call Alcohol/Drug Prevention and

Recovery in Kansas City, saw firsthand what can happen to an organization that does not manage succession effectively. Early in her career, O'Neill told one of her former organization's board of directors of her intention to leave. But what followed was a case study in how not to handle succession planning. Rather than taking immediate action to find a successor, the board sat on the news of O'Neill's upcoming departure for several weeks, wasting valuable time, she says.

When the board began to look for a replacement, it did so by advertising in a publication commonly read by staff and stakeholders and by writing the ad in such a way that the organization and the position were easily recognizable. At that time, the board still had not informed anyone of O'Neill's upcoming departure, causing widespread confusion and gossip among staff about the future of the organization and their own jobs, while also undermining the organization in the eyes of its fundraisers, referral sources and other key external stakeholders.

Transparency about the ongoing succession process is critical. O'Neill says that a communication plan can help guide staff about the situation.

"Organizations should be prepared to notify internal leadership, volunteer leadership, staff and other key stakeholders on what is going on how tasks will be delineated going forward," she says.

Being proactive rather than reactive is crucial to preparing for the inevitable change in leadership at any organization.

Leadership gap

Preparation could also include early identification of several potential successors and updates of the list every year or as needed. With top leadership succession, organizations will have the opportunity to focus more on maintaining the mission and day-to-day business when a replacement has already been identified.

"More often than not, organizations have nobody who is prepared to step in as leader," says Stacy Feiner, executive coach with consulting firm SS&G in Cleveland. …

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