Who’s next in line?

The Wall Street Journal had a good story on how Frontier Communications set up a succession plan. A few years ago, the CEO matched her key lieutenants with board members for coaching and development. Word is that the system, while not perfect, is working. If CEO Maggie Wilderotter went off to sail the world for three years tomorrow, Frontier has strong leaders at the next level who could step in temporarily or maybe permanently.

While Frontier is getting lauded, corporate board members at the biggest U.S. companies feel their organizations’ succession planning is not so praiseworthy: According to a 2009 survey from PricewaterhouseCoopers and Corporate Board Member magazine, four in 10 corporate board members are not happy with succession planning. That’s up from the 2007 numbers.

If this is true at large corporations, with arguably more manpower and money to devote to considering and resolving management issues, then how are nonprofits doing at succession planning? How different would results of this survey be among members of nonprofit boards?

Nonprofits usually have a passionate CEO who devotes his or her life to the cause. And because mission dedication and management skills must mesh at the top, when it’s time to pass the baton boards may have to work with interim leadership for a long time as that next perfect leader is found or developed. At the same time, management training is not usually in the budget at any level of a nonprofit. Yet the training opportunity Maggie Wilderotter created is essentially free, and nonprofit boards are often rich with varied management strengths.

Is it clear who’s next in line at your organization? And if not, what’s the plan for planning?

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