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Board Succession: How to Seamlessly Transition to a New Team

Posted Dec 16, 2021 04:50 PM
As you prepare for another year of pursuing your mission, now is the time to assess whether your board is equipped to welcome new members — whether foreseen or not. Without succession plans in place, the transition to a new team can be chaotic even under normal circumstances.

Emergency situations where a board member ends their term early can be even more hectic!

You should be able to identify proper replacements and give candidates what they need to get up and running. After all, your board members volunteer their free time to guide your organization. The last thing you want is to give a bad first impression.

From forecasting openings to welcoming new members, there’s a lot that goes into succession planning. Knowing how you’ll handle transitions before you actually have to will prevent a lot of stress. With your board, optimize the process using the following steps.

What is a succession plan is and why does it matter?

You might vaguely understand that a succession plan is how you’ll handle the transition between old and new board members. But what exactly is it, and why should you create one?

Boardable’s guide to board succession planning explains that it’s “a strategic document that outlines the process that boards and committees must follow when replacing board members, board leadership, or the executive director. These plans can help fill an existing vacancy or plan ahead for a future vacancy.”

Succession planning entails establishing a plan for different types of vacancies, documenting key responsibilities, developing a recruitment plan, and defining the onboarding process. Implementing an effective plan helps to:

  • Find the best candidates to serve on your board
  • Devote time to preparing new board members to fulfill responsibilities
  • Help new board members fit into the board’s culture
  • Ensure that the organization continues with its strategic plans without any interruptions

It’s no secret that this can be a lot of work. Many boards form an ad hoc nominating committee that oversees this process year-round, but smaller boards might not have the capacity for that. Instead, they may assign this responsibility to one individual, like the administrator. With a solid understanding of the basics, read further for key succession planning activities.

Treat recruiting as an ongoing process

You should always have a pipeline of candidates who are excited to step up and serve. However, that’s easier said than done, especially for smaller organizations that have to spend their time focusing on planning and pushing big initiatives forward.

Around six months prior to a planned vacancy, start pushing harder with recruitment. This leaves time to connect with people who possess the skills and motivation your board needs. For unplanned vacancies, start recruiting whenever the news breaks.

Regardless of the scenario, consider these two paths:

  • Recruiting internally. Especially for leadership positions, consider current board members. You’ll already know if they have the right skills. Plus, they’ll already understand the organization’s culture.
  • Recruiting externally. Bring fresh perspectives and skills to the boardroom. Candidates who haven’t served before aren’t ideal for leadership positions, but they can certainly make great board members.

However you approach recruitment, doing so with care empowers you to build an effective board that continuously brings more value to the organization.

Provide an informative onboarding experience

Think through how you’ll acclimate new board members to their roles, especially if you recruited them externally. With the help of your committee, you should plan how you’ll:

  • Teach everyone their responsibilities. What role-specific tasks will they be responsible for? What about general board member duties? Many boards develop a manual that covers these responsibilities.
  • Infuse them into the board’s culture. How will everyone get to know one another? Will you plan icebreaker activities, pair them up with a veteran board member, or host social events? Being able to collaborate with one another is vital.
  • Assess their progress. You shouldn’t conduct a formal evaluation, but you should watch new members’ progress and offer helpful feedback. RealHR Solutions explains that evaluations provide team members with the context they need to enhance their performance, feel invested, and understand how they’re impacting the organization.

Plan your onboarding process early on and make sure current board members are aware of their roles in the process. The result will be a positive onboarding experience that makes it easy for new members to become independent in their roles.

Don’t forget about your remote board members

Between breaking down geographical barriers and reducing travel costs, the option to attend meetings remotely has taken recruitment and board service to a whole new level.

If you’re shifting to hybrid work, don’t let your remote board members become an afterthought. Think through how you’ll make the transition into new roles equally valuable for everyone. Consider how you’ll:

  • Onboard everyone. Meet and share any materials they need online. This way, you won’t have to host two separate onboarding sessions (one for in-person members and one for remote members) where you’re repeating the same things.
  • Promote camaraderie among board members. You might devote the first 10 minutes of board meetings to chatting, or host separate virtual social events altogether. Put thought into how you’ll help everyone get to know each other.
  • Loop them into meetings. Hybrid meetings can be tricky. Especially as people are getting acclimated to their roles, they need to be fully engaged in meetings. Align the physical and remote boardrooms by assigning someone to monitor virtual attendees and speak up when someone has something to add.

Offering equal opportunities will help make the transition between teams as smooth as possible. Think through how you’ll manage your remote and in-person teams ahead of time, so everyone gets as much out of serving your organization as possible.

Final thoughts

Board succession planning is a crucial part of effective governance. Give it the attention it deserves, and start assessing your existing plans. It's inevitable that board members’ terms will come to an end, leaving an empty seat at the board table. Make sure you’re prepared!