Succession Planning Should Start Today

The goal of any organization faced with an aging staff should be to have a plan in place that provides for the least amount of disruption to the ongoing work of the agency.

succession-planningBy Joy Brand-Richardson

Every day in the United States, at least 10,000 people turn 65. Although hitting that mark no longer assures retirement, with people aging better and living longer, it’s certainly a time when they begin to think about next steps, if they haven’t been already.

Jewish organizations should be, too. When we hear “succession planning,” most of us tend to think about the process of replacing aging baby boomers who occupy the C-suite, many of whom will be retiring in the next three to 10 years. And that’s a good place to start. It is very important for us to think about those who hold the chief executive, operating and financial positions in our institutions and take inventory of their plans for retirement.

But what about those in key positions in our agencies who are not in the top tier? How are we planning for replacing our early childhood, camp, marketing and sports and wellness directors? Where do we find the talent to fill these roles and where will these replacements come from?

The goal of any organization faced with an aging staff should be to have a plan in place that provides for the least amount of disruption to the ongoing work of the agency. People approaching 65 are having retirement conversations all the time, just not with their supervisors. They are making plans with family, thinking about downsizing and where they would like to move, and mulling over their finances.

Too often, staff in this position are concerned if they voice their plans to retire in two or three years, they will be “helped” to leave early. The conversation needs to move from the kitchen table to the office and feel safe and open and honest. We need to pave the way for these conversations, and eliminate that fear so that we can strengthen our bench staff and plan for the future.

tm_long_fullcolor_signature_largerJCC Association is helping to facilitate these conversations at local JCCs. Through the work in our Talent Management program, JCC supervisors are being given the tools to talk about a staff person’s current skill set, where she or he wants to be in the near future and how to chart a path to get to the next level for advancement. At the same time, JCC Association’s professional development department is working with senior management, helping set a course for strategic personnel retention and replacement.

The program was launched with 10 JCCs in an initial pilot program in 2014. The driving goal? To help JCCs attract, retain and train the best and the brightest in their fields. The word-of-mouth among JCC executives was so strong for the program that a second cohort was in demand while it was in its infancy. We’ll be bringing Talent Management to another 11 JCCs beginning this fall.

So what do you do if you’re not a JCC? Or your Jewish organization needs guidance? How do you begin? In many cases it’s a culture change. It takes a plan and open, honest conversation. People in their 60s know how old they are, and so do their co-workers. So why are we not having the conversations out in the open? Here’s an easy five-step plan any organization can follow to get started:

  • Conduct a staffing audit to determine what key roles will need to be filled and by when. This audit includes an up-to-date table of organization and comprehensive job descriptions of everything that falls under an employee’s current responsibilities, not just what might have been in his or her hiring letter. Have each staff member write their own job descriptions. It’s sure to include many items senior staff might not know about.
  • Simultaneously, perform a job audit to determine if the responsibilities of a position now are the responsibilities of the position of the future. Is this position critical to the operation of the agency? How will it look different in the next three to five years? Will the position require a different skill set than it currently does?
  • Educate the staff. Talk open and honestly about the agency’s need to plan for retirements and replacements. Reassure staff that they are valued and their jobs are not in jeopardy.
  • Look internally. Who on staff are your “high potentials?” Who has the competencies, organizational fit and proven track record to move into an advanced role? What training will this person need to be ready to fill the opening? Internal candidates know the history and the ins and outs of the organization and that may lead to less interruption in the work being done.
  • Provide professional development opportunities, not just to the high potentials who might be moving up, but to all levels of the organization. Chances are, when change happens, everyone on staff will have shifting roles. Get ahead of the curve and train staff now. We have evidence from JCC Association’s Benchmarking program that professional development opportunities, along with the tone senior management sets, meaningful performance reviews and effective internal communications, are all strongly correlated with higher staff satisfaction.

Staff members who are included in the early conversations and understand the agency’s plan are more likely to feel cared for and valued. Keeping everyone in the loop may, in the long run, lead to less stress and greater success for everyone.

JCC Association has developed tools to help its member agencies embark on the transition in a meaningful, thoughtful way. We are seeing successes as JCCs assess their staff needs and begin to plan for the future.

The Mandell JCC of Greater Hartford participated in JCC Association’s Benchmarking most recently in 2015; the results from the staff survey surprised JCC leadership – the JCC had a higher percentage of people seeking to retire in the next three to five years – 12 percent, more than any of the other 48 JCCs in the Benchmarking program.

“Many of our professionals have been here for upwards of 25 years,” says David Jacobs, the JCC’s executive director. “But they are far outnumbered by the millennials on our staff. We recognize the need to work with this group to provide professional and personal development opportunities and to identify internal career paths for them.” The Mandell JCC will be one of the participating JCCs in the next round of the Talent Management Program.

The initial 10 communities participating in Talent Management Program had a combined enrollment of more than 250 people in the program. The new cohort coming on board this fall represents an additional 250 to 300 JCC professionals. As JCC Association works with these two large cohorts, we will be able to fine-tune the message about how best to prepare Jewish professionals for the future. Having abundant, prepared and capable staff is often something we take for granted. Making sure that newer employees have room to grow and the confidences to step into place as their predecessors retire is a way to assure our organizations thrive long after we’ve left the building.

Joy Brand-Richardson is vice president, director of training and professional development at JCC Association. She works closely with all affiliated JCCs in the area of staff development and succession planning. JCC Association strengthens and leads JCCs of North America.