In any organisation, succession planning is crucial to maintaining the momentum of the organisation, and in preserving corporate knowledge. For an Indigenous organisation, often short on documented procedures and corporate knowledge, and short of funds to build that documented history and strategy, it is doubly important.
Good succession planning means that the organisations doesn't go into cycles of stop-start and rebuild.
In particular, a good CEO and a high-performing and productive Chairperson and Board are critical to the success of an Indigenous organisation - you just can't hope for the best.
So what are the things that an Indigenous organisation need to consider in succession planning?
First of all, note that succession planning is not about just one individual, but about the key people that are required to be always productive and functioning in order to lead the success of the organisation.
While people often concentrate on succession planning for the CEO, or for the Chairperson, you need to consider "the team" whether this comprises those two positions or others as well.
Remember succession planning is about the long term. You cannot ignore it for years and then start to look for a successor in the year that the key person retires - or worse, after they hand in their resignation! Identifying successors means planning for an appropriate time for them to gain skills and knowledge. It means putting aside the time to introduce them to the corporate culture, the processes, and to ensure they have some experience working in support positions such as Vice-Chairperson or Chief Operating Officer and so on.
A proper succession pathway can take up to 5 to 10 years!
During the period of succession, consider providing identified successors with external pathways to obtain skills-training. This can include secondments and other external employment programs. There are large national organisations such as Legal Firms and Accounting Firms that offer internships. So do some government departments.
In the meantime ensure that the organisation's documentation is up to scratch.
Review your Policies - are they up to date and in one place? What about your Procedures Manuals?
At the same time review the Minutes Register and other corporate registers. Are they complete? Do they tell a narrative about the strategic direction of the organisation? Ensure the correct copies of strategic and business plans are available in one place, and accessible.
Documents and "living processes" are important places where background information on past decisions and direction and corporate memory can be accessed by incoming people. Let the new leaders benefit from the past instead of having to reinvent the wheel.
As an Indigenous organisation, make sure the marriage of statutory (white-man's) governance principles and traditional governance principles work. Elders, for example, have a role to play in succession planning and shouldn't be ignored because the succession is about statutory Boards and management. Use their experience and cultural knowledge to ensure that the right people are being sought to carry on the successful corporate culture.
It is extremely useful that while including Elders in the process, you also think about Board composition - what kind of blend of skills and experience and knowledge, as well as balance of genders and cultural authority do you need on the Board to make it function well? If you can answer this question with a list of attributes, these can be used in any attempts to seek and identify future leaders.
Finally, seek external advice. The external professional who does this all the time may well have a wealth of experience to give advice o how to plan for succession in your organisation. As well, independent Directors and external advisors who know your organisation well can also offer impartial advice on the succession planning.
During our many years consulting to Indigenous organisations, we have seen so many successful organisations suddenly hit a brick wall in their path, and have to go through a period of rebuilding. This is usually when a long-term Chairperson or CEO leaves the organisation for one reason or another.
It is actually good practice to renew the leadership from time to time - after all, we all get stale. However this should be part of a plan and the succession plan is so important that it cannot be left to chance - or to the last minute.
Start your succession planning now!
If you need any help in the process, get in touch with us. Go to our website at www.otsmanagement.com and click on the "Contact Us" link.