Flash Newsletter
April 2015

Michele Warholic (left), Colette Huzinec (center), and
Jim Zaniello (right)

"Leadership in Transition: Planning Starts at the Top"

Jim Zaniello, moderator of the panel and President of Vetted Solutions, opened the discussion of succession planning by comparing it to the experience of preparing a Last Will and Testament:  we know the day will come when it's needed, but we try to put off  thinking about it as long as we can.  Some Boards and Senior Managers prefer not to deal with succession planning until a vacancy is imminent.  Issues of loyalty, inertia and for some, denial, come into play.  But by avoiding the question the very goal of the plan, i.e. to support the culture and to retain the talent in the organization, is put at risk.  So, how do you "tee up" to succession planning if you haven't done it before?  The members of the panel agreed:  it makes good business sense!  Having a succession plan for each member of the executive team and updating it annually takes the pressure off an unexpected loss and supports the efficiencies realized by developing and retaining talent.
The principal stakeholders in the development of the succession plan are the Board of Directors, the CEO, the HR Director and the CFO.  Michele Warholic recommended engaging an external facilitator to assist with the discussion, ensure integrity of the process and help deal with the tough conversations that are likely to come up.  Think of succession planning as a way to engage in thoughtful dialogue with management and staff on career development rather than as a disaster recovery plan. 


Faced with finding successors, board sometimes wrestle with the pros and cons of internal vs. external candidates.   Panel members  represented both viewpoints: Ms. Warholic reflected that most boards like to look  outside of the organization while Colette Huzinec outlined the benefits of maintaining the culture by limiting the pool to internal candidates.


The selection is made, an offer is accepted and the job is done, right?  Not yet! The panelists emphasized that a key step in the process is the job of getting the successor "on board"  and proposed the establishment of a committee separate from the selection committee to provide the schedule , the information, the resources and the coaching to ensure a smooth and positive  transition.

In conclusion, Jim Zaniello reminded everyone that any CEO's legacy - whether the departure is planned or unplanned - includes concern for the organization and its teams after she leaves.