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Panel: Succession plan is about sustainability, talent management

More than 30 human services executives heard an expert panel discuss organizational management and succession planning at a forum hosted by the Providers’ Council in Framingham on Feb. 24.

Hez Norton, Director of Partnership & Leadership Initiatives for Third Sector New England, opened the session with data, sharing information from TSNE’s report “Leadership in New England” based on surveys of nonprofit leaders and board members about sustainability.
Among the numbers Norton outlined: 64 percent of respondents expected to be leaving their jobs within five years, yet 60 percent of organizations do not have an executive transition plan.

Panelists Joanne Hilferty, president and CEO of Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries; Bill Sprague, president and CEO of Bay Cove Human Services; and Imari Paris Jeffries, human services executive and consultant, each discussed their organization’s succession plan as well as their varying approaches to identifying and developing emerging leaders from within their agencies.

Each agreed that succession plans are a fluid strategy, changing with organizational needs and growth as well as with the skillsets and talent available. Goodwill, for example, updates its succession plan annually. And all panelists agreed that so-called “bench strength” – those waiting in the wings to take on more leadership responsibilities – is lacking, underscoring the need for investment in talent development.

“Once you get into an executive transition, the train’s already left the station,” Norton said, noting the TSNE report suggests a shift away from the phrase “succession planning.” “We need to shift from calling it succession planning to calling it deep sustainability – it’s not about one leader.”