If your town manager was suddenly stricken and unable to work, what would happen to your town? What would happen if you lost your police chief or Public Works director? Do you have someone ready right now who could step in? If not, what’s your plan?
When Jack Welch announced his retirement as the head of General Electric, there were three replacements waiting in the wings. When McDonald’s Chairman Jim Cantalupo suddenly died, his replacement was a heartbeat away. In both cases, plans were in place and the transition for the new leader was orderly, with minimal or no impact on the organization.
GE and McDonald’s exemplified the importance and effectiveness of succession planning. Each was ready with an able heir. But one does not have to be a Fortune 500 firm to have a plan – in fact, every municipality should be prepared for the inevitable. The success of your city or town depends on a smooth continuity of leadership and the development of home-grown talent. But few municipalities have a plan.
Too often, municipalities are focused on the crisis in front of them. Making plans for something that will happen in the future does not seem to rise to the level of urgency. It is just easier to defer to another time.
For others, succession planning hits too close to home. Thinking about one’s own position and when you may no longer occupy it makes some people them feel uncomfortable. Planning for that time and developing a replacement, makes some feel superfluous.
Succession planning sometimes forces people to face their own retirements and brings up lots of issues that many would rather not address at all. It can be painful. And for others, those who may be a bit jaded, succession planning is simply not their problem.