3 improvements to make to your succession plans

Plans are critical as turnover rises

 Succession planning is a sensitive issue, as several university leaders recently discussed at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education (ACE). 

The panel provided recommendations for improving your institution's succession plans, Autumn Arnett reports for Education Dive. Panelists also pointed out that succession planning can go hand in hand with open searches for leadership positions. 

How to ensure a seamless transition as a new college president

It's a timely topic: Leadership turnover has been on the rise. According to ACE, the average tenure of a college president has dipped in the last decade from 8.5 years to seven years. The same is true at community colleges, where annual presidential transitions have more than doubled in the past five years.

At the same time, the traditional pipeline for college presidents seems to be growing less reliable. Also according to ACE, only 30% of current provosts aspire to be presidents. 

So you've got a new president. Ease the transition with these 5 steps.

Panelists recommended three steps to make succession planning easier and fill crucial vacancies faster:

1. Cultivate your pipeline

Georgia College President Steve Dorman suggested identifying people in your organization with leadership potential. He recommended encouraging these individuals to take on additional responsibilities that would help them cultivate skills and knowledge they would need for future leadership roles. For example, you could ask them to lead committees or participate in a leadership program, such as the Higher Education Leadership Foundation (HELF) founded by the president of Wilberforce University, Herman Felton. 

Cultivating the skills of chairs, deans, and other faculty administrators

2. Create mentorship opportunities

Felton encouraged institutions to use mentors, including for those who would usually serve as mentors themselves.

"I've had the opportunity to have mentors who are newly-appointed presidents, who are in the middle of their walk and who are seasoned, and it has made an invaluable difference in the way I lead," said Felton.

Because interim administrators are given the tasks of preparing the institution or new leadership, it is especially important for them to have a mentor, Dorman said.

3. Talk about it

Jim Cavanaugh, president and CEO of the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area, said many institutions avoid conversations about succession planning.

But, he argued, just because the conversation might cause some discomfort or contention doesn't mean it shouldn't be faced. "Succession really needs to be a part of the overall strategic planning for the institution," he said, "if we think we have a problem with the leadership pipeline now, what kind of problems are we going to have in decade?" (Arnett, Education Drive, 3/16). 


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