Here’s Why Mentorship Matters When It Comes to Succession Planning

In our succession planning work, we always ask clients if there are any internal candidates that have been identified as potential successors to the current chief executive.

When there are, we advocate for their growth and professional development. A critical part of succession planning is ensuring that there is a talent pipeline available for leadership positions.

The chief executive plays an important role as the organizational leader, but especially as the leader of the staff. When a staff member expresses an interest in becoming a future CEO, there is a unique opportunity to develop a mentoring relationship, especially when the staff member shows tremendous promise.

Mentoring through a succession planning lens focuses on supporting individuals and the relationships they need for success. According to BoardSource, there are six core competencies of nonprofit chief executives:

  • Planning — develop a shared vision and prepare for the future.
  • Fundraising — develop and implement systems and strategies to achieve financial goals.
  • Administration — develop, maintain, and use systems and resources for effective operations.
  • Board Relations — enable the board to effectively carry out its governance role.
  • Communications and PR — serve as the primary spokesperson and public face of the organization.
  • Financial Management — ensure sound accounting, control, and risk management practices.

We encourage chief executives to review these competencies with the staff member to determine learning goals. For instance, if the staff member works in operations they may want to learn more about fundraising, or if they work in communications they may want to learn more about finance.

Together, the chief executive and staff member can create a professional development plan to be incorporated into the employee’s annual review process.

While a professional development plan is a formal process, the informal connection can be just as valuable. The chief executive can bring the staff member to certain meetings, have lunch to share lessons and stories, and ask them how they would approach an opportunity or challenge.

Early in my career, I had an organization leader tell me that she believed in me and that she saw my potential. I can’t even begin to express how that transformed my sense of self but also how I approached my work and my career.

As mentoring relationships develop, the chief executive should share with the board who on staff has the aspiration because board members can also play a role in their growth.

Talent development is always important but particularly now as we navigate the great resignation, quiet quitting, wage growth, labor shortage, and a myriad of other workforce disruptions.

While mentored staff members may or may not eventually become the chief executive at your organization, they will have a full career within the sector. Succession planning is a continuous process, and investing in employees ensures that an organization improves its human capital and culture to support the mission. It is the right thing to do, not only for the growth of employees and the organization, but for the communities that nonprofits serve.

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