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The people that support the successful running of your organisation are some of your greatest assets. However, it is inevitable that at some point people will move on and you will need to find suitable replacements.

Succession planning is the process of proactively identifying and preparing suitable people to fill your vital roles or undertake important tasks so that you can continue operating when someone leaves.

Why do we need a succession plan?

Planning for the departure of key volunteers or staff in advance helps to ensure that you are not left with a gap in skills and expertise that may negatively impact on the running of your organisation.

Even if your workforce (team) feels secure right now, unexpected events can lead to a sudden change of circumstances. Having a succession plan in place can help to give you: 

  • Time to replace people who might be moving on, enabling you to continue operating with minimal disruption. 
  • Sufficient handover periods and smooth transitions with the opportunity for knowledge and information sharing to help avoid the loss of insight and expertise. 
  • A clear understanding of what each role or task entails and needs, enabling you to undertake targeted recruitment efforts. 
  • Opportunities to plan training and development. 
  • A sense of security that will also be beneficial to other volunteers, staff and participants. 

Benefits of having a succession plan

Having a succession plan can also support: 

  • Meeting your aspirations by planning for your future needs and securing people with the right skills to support your development. 
  • Your people to progress and develop with confidence. 
  • A culture where people want to volunteer as their positions are well suited to them. 
  • The sharing of workloads to avoid burnout. 
  • Good governance, through increased diversity of thought and management. 

How to develop a succession plan

Before developing a succession plan, we recommend that you undertake a skills audit and build a skills matrix to help you identify the skills you require for specific roles and tasks and identify any gaps that need to be filled. Next, there are several steps to go through to help create a succession plan.

Identify vital tasks and roles within your organisation
Vital tasks and roles are those that, if vacant, negatively impact on your ability to operate or deliver your core activities. 
Determine risk of losing people that carry out vital tasks or roles, and if they might leave
The responses that each person provided to your skills matrix and any predetermined maximum durations of tenure (e.g. committee members can only serve 9 years) can help you to do this.
Define skills, expertise and behaviours needed to fill vacant positions or complete vital tasks
The outcomes of your skills audit and skills matrix will help you do this. 
Determine actions find replacements
You can use the outcomes of your skills audit and skills matrix to help you assess if you already have people who can fill any gaps or whether you need to reach out to find more.
Identify people to fill gaps
Decide on how you want to fill the position or undertake the tasks and the type of recruitment process required to reach a wide range of people. Be sure to check your Constitution and follow any requirements set out about recruitment. 
Select and develop new people
Once you have identified someone to take on the role or tasks, you will need to identify if they have any development and training needs and work out when and how to meet these.
Determine and plan a transition period
This will allow you to factor in sufficient time for a smooth handover. If a resignation is sudden and unexpected, any previous planning undertaken in the first four steps should help you to fill any gaps, even if this is on a temporary basis.
Election and appointment of personnel
Depending on your organisation's structure, any new committee/board appointments may need to be formally elected/appointed. Be sure to plan this in in advance. 
Regularly review your succession plan process
Try to review and revisit your succession plan on at least an annual basis to help you keep track of any changes within your organisation.

Useful download

Succession plan template Document template to identify vital roles and tasks of employees and how to fill vacancies if people leave the organisation. Download the file - 698.42 KB