I am blessed to coach many amazing leaders, and the topic of succession planning is coming up a lot, especially for executive directors of non-profits. At its core, it’s the realization that everything has a natural end, even a long and successful run as a leader or founder of an organization you love and have given your best years to.
But here’s the rub for me: Millennials and Gen Y employees aren’t staying in their jobs very long! It’s pretty hard to build a bench, cross-train employees, and dream about the future if half your employees seem to have one foot out the door. What’s a leader to do?
The short answer? Succession plan anyways! Knowing that your efforts will create a culture that’s less dependent on particular people and more alive to its essence and mission.
Here’s a few tips for leaders:
- Talk about your departure. People can’t work toward what they can’t imagine. Frequently mention things like, “When I’m gone…” or “I’d like this to run smoothly without me.” Of course, this means you are also working on individuation—having an identity outside of work, especially if you are the founder of an organization. Don’t wait until retirement or worse—illness—to develop your non-work self.
- Practice letting go. Research says that organizations whose ED’s take a sabbatical have more engaged, skilled staff because staff has been trusted and had to step up. Whether it’s a sabbatical, an altered job description, more PTO, or some strategic hires, preparing for your departure also just happens to be good for the organization in the moment.
- Create the kind of place where employees want to stay. Of course, you can’t make them stay, but there are some obvious imperatives here, hard as they may be. A values-driven culture, fun, connection, purpose, autonomy, safety, rest, competitive wages, and benefits. And maybe most importantly for millennials and Gen Y post-Covid—as much flexibility as possible. And not just flexibility of place and space—what people really want is flexibility with their TIME.
- Not, “How long can you stay?”, but “What can we accomplish together?” Ironically, this is the stance that will keep people longer. Build trust quickly, learn to flex based on your employees’ skills sets and passions, and appreciate and thank them for their efforts.
- Trust life and get help. I recently consulted to board whose 15-year leader had left them holding the bag with only 8 weeks notice and no preparation. They had zero conversations about succession planning and were in the dark about the even the most basic functions of the organization. And guess what? They came together beautifully, discovering how capable they were, how aligned they were. And maybe most importantly, they asked for help. They have some hard work to do and difficult choices to make, but they are helped by the profound recognition that life goes on, and they are choosing to trust that instead of being reactive.
I love the workplace and am endlessly fascinated by it. But succession planning is the great acknowledgement that life is bigger than work, and the sooner we embrace that, the better our organizations will be. As a leader, one of your most pivotal roles is to model being in love with life. If you can do that, I’ll bet some of those millennials might make your organization the last stop of their career train for a while. It’s contagious.
P.S. This is all easier said than done—you might need help. I know someone who’s pretty good at being a life-a-holic.