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Plan for Success:
Why Succession Planning is Crucial for Your Organization

Today’s labor market is unlike anything I have seen in my career. There are fewer applicants for open positions and the needs and wants of employees have changed. And in non-profits, the labor market changes can be felt even stronger because employees in nonprofits wear so many hats. Creating a strong succession plan not only ensures success in the future but also creates opportunities for development for current employees and strengthens their ties to the organization. I enjoy sharing my experience with succession planning and how to create a succession plan for your organization.

Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan

Anne Donovan, SPHR, SHRM-SCP I am a Human Resources leader known for developing new programs and training, dramatically improving employee retention and leadership performance. I design initiatives to address underlying issues across many industries by conducting extensive employee feedback research. Organizations value my talent for identifying core workforce needs and taking action to develop and drive projects. Some of my successes include dramatically reducing turnover, introducing retention programs, spearheading leadership development programs, and creating succession plans for the future. In addition, leading culture shifts and change management during highly stressful times are some of my specialties. I have created high-performing teams by leading with a people-first philosophy. I have a talent for spotting potential in people and I am passionate about growing and supporting people so they realize their full potential. My passion lies in helping people and organizations thrive.

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0:01 – Hugh Ballou Welcome to the Nonprofit Exchange. This is Hugh Ballou, founder and president of SynerVision Leadership Foundation, where we create synergy together around your vision for your organization. You’re making a difference and impacting people’s lives. So this whole series is about how do we do everything we do better Center Vision is about transforming leaders, transforming organizations, transforming lives. And my guest today is a new friend, Anne Donovan. And Anne has a very specialized skill, but I’ll let her tell you about herself and her background.

0:40 – Hugh Ballou And then let me give you the title for this episode. It’s Plan for Success, Why Succession Planning is Crucial. And Donna, welcome to the nonprofit exchange and tell people a little bit about your background and your passion for this work.

0:59 – Anne Donovan, thank you so much for having me on and I’m thrilled to be speaking to you and your audience today about succession planning. But before we begin, I will tell you a little bit about me. I’m. And Donovan, I have 20-plus years in the world of human resources, and I know. What everybody’s thinking is, oh, she’s a policy police, but I like to bring people 1st philosophy to the work that I do in human resources. And about a year ago, I went out on my own after sitting behind the desk for that long.

1:37 – Anne Donovan Because I want to take my message of employee retention to smaller organizations. And I fell in love with employer retention back when I was first getting started in HR.

1:53 – Anne Donovan I was the employment manager for a large hotel, and I was responsible for recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding. But do you know what I was doing week in, week out? Recruiting, interviewing, hiring, onboarding, because we had high turnover. And that just drove me batty. So I thought there’s got to be a way that we can reduce turnover and create a better culture and environment for everyone. So working through data and surveys and talking to employees, it takes a lot of communication.

2:32 – Anne Donovan With me, with my team, we were able to reduce turnover from 50% to 30%. And I’ve carried those strategies on with me throughout the rest of my career. And that’s the message that I want to take to organizations today.

2:49 – Hugh Ballou Love it. Love it. And I want to connect the dots on succession planning and reply to your attention, but you’re what we talked a little bit before we went live today. You approach this from a people-centered perspective, and sometimes HR people are miscategorized in other ways. We also have this whole thing of compliance, which is another topic for another day. But people like you help small enterprises when they really can’t afford an HR person. And so you’ve already nailed what you do differently.

3:26 – Hugh Ballou Is there anything else that stands out that you bring? Now, you say you work with small businesses. Nonprofits are mostly small businesses, and it’s not and it’s not a for-profit business, it’s for-purpose business. So it’s all the business stuff made harder. It’s harder in this framework, isn’t it?

3:47 – Anne Donovan It is definitely because the mission is driving the work and so often all of the compliance stuff can get forgotten. It’s still important, but leading with the people-first philosophy is looking at the person as a whole. And with nonprofits, they are leading individuals. They are leading employees or volunteers to fulfill their mission. And with my work, by focusing on the individuals that are doing the work, then it just brings a more holistic environment, and I think a stronger, more purpose-driven culture to the organization.

4:32 – Hugh Ballou Which is essential for reaching your goals, isn’t it? It is,

4:37 – Anne Donovan Yes. Nobody’s an automaton. We are all humans, and we are all going to bring our humanness Into the work that we do, whatever it is.

4:48 – Hugh Ballou So, this turnover, I saw somebody do a paper on it 1 time and it’s much more costly than we think it is. Isn’t it?

4:59 – Anne Donovan It is there’s so many when we’re looking for. Employees are volunteers a lot of times organizations will look at the hard cost of placing an ad or posting it on social media, but it’s not just the Hard cost of recruiting, but it’s the soft cost of once you have somebody and you bring them on board, it’s the cost of training. It’s the cost of What happens if you can’t fill that position, you can have customers or clients that leave. So there’s a lot more that goes into turnover than just.

5:39 – Anne Donovan The recruiting costs, and I, there’s a lot of different numbers that run around out there, but it’s anywhere from 1 times to 6 times somebody’s annual salary. That goes out the door when somebody leaves.

5:55 – Hugh Ballou Yeah, that’s significant. That’s significant. And you could say it’s the same issue with volunteers because volunteers perform a function in the organization like employees do.

6:07 – Anne Donovan Exactly. It’s I volunteer regularly with an organization now, and I’ve been doing it for a year and a half. So I have tenure there and I know what I’m doing. I can go in and do it. With do what I need to without minimal supervision, but when I was 1st, getting started, I. Had a lot of questions I went through an orientation. I didn’t know as much I made more mistakes and Longer tenure, even as a volunteer, I’m not. I don’t need as many resources to fulfill the work.

6:49 – Hugh Ballou So let’s connect the dots. Why is turnover, and employee retention rather, important for you building your succession plan? And let’s do that and then we’ll go into the succession planning.

7:03 – Anne Donovan So with a strong succession plan in place, it can actually increase employee retention and thus reduce turnover or increase Just retention and so with a succession plan, it is what happens when. This person leaves, so if you’re the executive director of a nonprofit. Think about how many years you have invested how much knowledge you have gained how much work you have put in If you decide to, let’s just say, retire 1 day and leave, but with a strong succession plan in place, you’ve already identified your successor.

7:54 – Anne Donovan There’s a lot, there’s continuity within the organization. So you’ve been able to transfer your knowledge to this new person, and there’s not as many rocky roads to go through. Now, 1 day, if you’re the executive director, and Something catastrophic happens, without a succession plan in place, people are scrambling to get the work done. They may or may not know what the executive director did. And so they’re just putting pieces together, and there’s a lot of information that’s falling through the cracks because there wasn’t a strong plan in place.

8:32 – Anne Donovan With succession planning, if you identify people to succeed within their organization, That gives them opportunities for career growth, even though it may not be right now, they know that there’s a path forward for them, which increases retention.

8:51 – Hugh Ballou So I’m playing dumb here, which isn’t hard. I say I’ve got a strategic plan. Is that not the same as a succession plan? If not, what’s the difference?

9:04 – Anne Donovan So I see that a strategic plan is very similar to a succession plan. The succession plan identifies those key roles within the organization, whereas the strategic plan identifies the key functions that have to continue. On and so those key roles within the organization, if you with a strong succession plan in place, you’ve already identified. A person or people to fulfill those key roles, if they become empty, you’ve taken the time to train and develop these individuals to move into those roles.

9:40 – Anne Donovan Or you can put together the recruiting plan to identify external candidates to fulfill those key roles when necessary.

9:50 – Hugh Ballou So I’m listening from a nonprofit executive director standpoint, and they say, you know, I already can’t do what I’m supposed to do. I’m so busy. We have to do a strategy plan. We have to do a marketing plan. We have to do a funding plan. And now you tell me we have to do a succession plan. So talk about the benefits. There’s a benefit here for creating a succession plan. So let’s focus on that one. We’ve talked about the others, but I can refresh that quickly. But why? What’s the benefit of doing this?

10:21 – Anne Donovan Oh, from I think that there’s a lot of benefit not only. If you’re the executive director with a strong succession plan in place, then you’re able to retire. Out of care, probably not, but, um. You know that there’s somebody identified to move into those roles. The benefits are also that. Employee retention or volunteer retention with they’re looking forward to that career development. They are looking forward to learning new skills. You can also strengthen the bench in which you’re from what you.

11:02 – Anne Donovan Can pull that if somebody wants to go out on vacation, they can do so freely because you have somebody that can just pick up those functions for just a little bit with the succession plan. And the training and developing going on, you’re probably cross-training a lot of different people to fill in. If somebody does get sick or somebody does need to take an extended leave, then you can plug in those temporary holes.

11:32 – Hugh Ballou So what you’re doing is bringing an awareness to me like cross-training, duh. That’s something we don’t put front and center. Now, what happens if this person gets sick or they take a vacation, they have a baby, you know, what’s going on here? So that’s a big, is that often overlooked in your experience?

11:55 – Anne Donovan It is. It’s a lot of times, and it’s just through the day-to-day work we get so ingrained in the day-to-day that we don’t look at how can we use the teams that we have, use the people that we have, and not only bolster their skills and strengths but also bolster the organization by cross-training. And it’s something that organizations just don’t spend a lot of time on until it’s necessary. They have a resignation in hand and they’re thinking, oh, no, we don’t have anybody to fill this role.

12:32 – Anne Donovan Well, there’s Jim over there in accounting. He could probably do some HR. And we have Sally over in operations. She can probably answer phones. And then that puts a burden on people, on the people within the organization that they’re probably strapped for time too. And now they just have to quickly pick up these additional functions. But with cross-training, you can take the time before you need to, get Bob and accounting ready to pick up some more responsibilities and Sally is ready to pick up the phones.

13:07 – Hugh Ballou Now we have, we have, we’re dealing with people here with all our insecurities and frailties. And I, I’ve been doing this 35 years and I do find a few leaders, um, That have this insecurity of I need to protect my position. So I have, I have secrets. I have trade secrets about what I do. It’s even with volunteers, you know, it’s my little, my little niche. How do we address that as leaders and in ourselves and others?

13:36 – Anne Donovan What a fabulous question, Hugh. It’s interesting. I’m just now reading. Mindsets by Carol Dweck talks, and she addresses this exactly. Idea that some leaders, do want to hold on to their information and keep it close to the vest. And then other leaders are like, yeah, I’ll share all of my knowledge. And it’s important that within organizations, particularly organizations interested in succession planning, that transparency become one of the core values. Now you don’t go away giving away all of the secrets.

14:14 – Anne Donovan But with by being transparent, it demonstrates that you trust the people within your organization. But then they also start to trust you and they don’t want anything to happen to the organization. So they’re going to keep all that information, the trade secrets, and the confidentiality close to their best too.

14:36 – Hugh Ballou There’s a difference in my view of confidential and secret. Secret is withholding information for power. Confidential is confidential.

14:48 – Anne Donovan It’s like sharing everybody’s social security numbers on social media. That’s confidential. And you are exactly right. There is a difference.

14:58 – Hugh Ballou And we do find people with secrets and holding power. And there are also assumptions About confidentiality is confidential. No, it’s not, but confidential is privileged information that is not meant to be shared. So, that’s maybe news for some people, but it there’s a very, very important distinction. There isn’t there.

15:21 – Anne Donovan  I always think about the confidential information is well, I want this blasted out on the page of the Front page of the newspaper. And working in human resources, I come across a lot of confidential information that I wouldn’t want. To share that it’s. Yes, it pertains to the employees, but I am entrusted with that information. Now, with the secrets. Then, how do we get better at what we do and how do we increase employee retention? That should be held secret. I’m going to tell everybody that because I want every organization to be better.

16:07 – Hugh Ballou If you’re coming by Facebook or watching this on a video, we’re interviewing Ann Donovan on the nonprofit exchange today, and we’re learning a whole bunch of new stuff about succession planning, employee retention, and HR from a really good perspective. There’s a lot of stuff that you’re talking about, and it’s stuff that nonprofit leaders, maybe because they’re so busy in the trenches, haven’t gotten to and don’t realize how important it is to the overall picture. So, when I talk about a strategic plan, all the parts are in my mind.

16:39 – Hugh Ballou It’s just intuitive for me what comes next. But I’m sure you’re talking about creating a succession plan. People, their heads spin. Where do I start? What are the steps? Enlighten us, would you?

16:51 – Anne Donovan Of course, so there’s just as with any plan, there’s a lot of information that you can gather beforehand. It’s looking at the What are the key and identifying the key roles within your organization that if somebody were to. Turn in their notice tomorrow and take off. That the organization would not be able to function properly by identifying what the core competencies in those key roles are important. Identifying individuals within the organization that could move into those key roles.

17:31 – Anne Donovan Maybe they’re not ready today. Maybe not tomorrow, but Willing who are those individuals that I want to move in and we have most of the skills that can, or can you develop the skills that they’ll need to move into those roles? And then. Putting this plan into place and documenting, documenting, documenting so that. Whoever is the keeper of the succession plan, if they’re the ones to take off tomorrow, then people aren’t scrambling to. See, well, who did we have slotted for this or what were we doing here?

18:06 – Anne Donovan And then reviewing the succession plan periodically, because maybe you had somebody slated to go into the had department role, but that person’s moved on. So now you need to identify somebody else. Then it needs to be tied into the core values of the organization. And I think anything that the organization does should be tied to the core values so that you never lose sight of who you are as an organization, what your mission is, and what work you’re there to fulfill.

18:45 – Hugh Ballou And we don’t do that very much. We write them, feel good about them, put them away. Don’t worry.

18:50 – Anne Donovan We do. Yes. Or we post them up on the wall and say, yep, those are our core values, but we never check in to make sure we’re still living and working within those values.

19:00 – Hugh Ballou One of our tactics that we teach in center vision is we move from the words of trust and integrity and fairness. We move from single words to a statement of principle. And then we suggest when people have meetings, if you’ve got 10 principles, you review one. And it eventually works into the culture as we value the individual. And that’s what you’re doing with HR rather than, oh, you got to obey the rules all the time. No, we have to improve what we do together, which brings up a big vacuum I see in the whole culture of nonprofits.

19:37 – Hugh Ballou You’re talking about a collaborative culture within the organization. You know, how do we work better together when we collaborate on this and that’s a whole different, different learning experience for people. Do you find that to be true?

19:53 – Anne Donovan I do it’s. Working within human resources as long as I have, it’s. I’ve worked in a lot of silos, and something that I’m seeing within the new workforce now, though, is that workplaces are becoming more collaborative. It’s taking time, and it is a shift from what we’ve been doing. But working within those silos, to me, was maddening because you were talking about it earlier, that everybody held their information close, and I don’t want to share it. I haven’t worked in 1 organization that can work in silos.

20:35 – Anne Donovan We all depend on different teams and different departments and different people to get the work done. And so I’m excited to see where. We’re headed with the collaboration piece. We’re not quite there yet, but we’re headed in the right direction.

20:52 – Hugh Ballou Well, many more people like you doing that work and I want to show you a website in a minute. So that that’s a, that’s a big piece of the evolving culture that I’m glad that you’re stressing. We teach that, but it’s the leadership component, but the HR component is essential to leadership. And there’s just a lot of things that we don’t part of what we need to do is delegate. We’re not very good at that either. Having somebody like you to say, okay, help me create this. You’ve done it and I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

21:28 – Hugh Ballou So what are some of the challenges and pitfalls that we need to be aware of when we’re creating a succession plan?

21:35 – Anne Donovan It is that I don’t want to share the information. I don’t want to give up my piece of what I’m doing. So ego has a lot to do with it. And then there’s. Organizations that focus exclusively on the executive level. So with the executive director of a nonprofit, it’s just identifying their successor, as opposed to looking at all of the key roles within the organization. And I’ve worked with one organization that had this extension plan down to line supervisors. So they had it dialed so that anytime anybody left, there was somebody ready to take on that role.

22:20 – Hugh Ballou Now, we’re talking about different size cultures, and you’ve worked with all of them, and we don’t want people to assume this only is necessary when you have a big office staff and a big culture. This is important for the one person with a few volunteers as well. And, you know, you have a team, even though you hire out bookkeeping or you hire out marketing, that’s still a team.

22:45 – Anne Donovan It is.

22:47 – Hugh Ballou And we need to invest in our volunteers as well.

22:51 – Anne Donovan Definitely and it’s the smaller organizations that can benefit more from succession from a strong succession plan because. They do have 1 person wearing 18 different hats.

23:06 – Hugh Ballou And I think through this process we could. It’s reverse learning. We learn how to delegate by doing this process. So, let me go to your website. And for people listening to the podcast, it’s Donovan, Donovan Hr Solutions Com, N O Va, N Hr Solutions Com and I’m going to show it to people who are watching the video. So, when people go there, what are they going to find?

23:38 – Anne Donovan So, it’s I do put out a biweekly blog. About in fact. In a couple of weeks, I’ll be talking about delegation because I talk about trust empowerment steps to achieve employee retention, um. And then I also just. I enjoy writing the blog, so get some tips and tricks there and then I have guested on a few other podcasts and I talk about employee retention there. So to check those out as well.24:18 – Hugh Ballou And to contact me, so if people have questions, they can, they can contact you. Also on your homepage, it talks about your services and the things that you do want people to need. You have to subscribe to your industry news. And so there’s the services. There’s a tab about that and memberships and classes. There’s a tab for that. There’s a whole lot to discover. And I hope by now, people realize that there’s a whole body of information that we don’t know anything about. And if it’s not your gift, it’s not your job.

24:51 – Hugh Ballou So find somebody good at it, like Anne, and get to know her. And I’m sure if people put in a contact me question you get back to them, correct?

25:02 – Anne Donovan Yes. And that’s me getting back to you.

25:06 – Hugh Ballou We’ve covered a lot of stuff that people are worried about all the data. There is a transcript on the page. You go to the nonprofit exchanges, nonprofit exchange dot. You’ll find a landing page, click on the archives, and then you’ll find this episode and on this episode or download it on your smartphone, the nonprofit exchange, or wherever you get podcast. The transcript will be available for you. So Anne, what do you want to leave people with today? A thought, a to-do, a tip? What do you want to leave people with today?

25:39 – Hugh Ballou This has been so helpful.

25:42 – Anne Donovan So I challenge each of our listeners to go out and think about their own succession plan for their organization and think about how they may be able to implement one shortly.

25:59 – Hugh Ballou Lovely. Anne Donovan, thank you so much for being our guest today on the Nonprofit Exchange.

26:06 – Anne Donovan Thank you very much, Hugh. I enjoyed speaking with you and your listeners. You you.

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