Not for CEOs: Succession Planning Means More Than Just Replacing People
Succession planning means more than just having a set of instructions in place for your board to follow in case you unexpectedly die, according to a panel of CEOs that participated in last week’s Not For CEOs discussion held at CUNA's Governmental Affairs Conference in Washington DC.
“A succession plan is not the same thing as a replacement plan,” said Brandon Michaels, CEO of the 52,000-member, $477 million Mazuma Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo.
A replacement plan is a piece of paper that tells the credit union board who they can turn to replace you in an emergency, Michaels explained. A succession plan is a proactive effort to cultivate and develop the next generation of leaders for the credit union.
Michaels appeared on the panel with Ronaldo Hardy, CEO of the 3,000-member, $28 million Shell Geismar FCU in Gonzalez, Louisiana, and Stan Hollen, CEO of CO-OP Financial Services, the big California-based payments CUSO.
Sarah Snell Cooke, editor/publisher of Credit Union Times, moderated the panel, which was broadcast over a live Internet feed from CO-OP’s booth at the GAC trade show.
Hardy and Michaels, who are both under age 40, emphasized that, properly understood, succession planning means more than merely planning for eventual replacements, it should be a way of tapping into the full talent of everyone on the credit union staff.
“When I look at succession planning, I see the root of the word, success,” said Hardy, explaining that as CEO, he considered one of his jobs is to find and unlock the staff's passions and then help move them to positions which are going to engage those passions not only for their success but for the success of the whole organization.
When asked how that employee development and formation should progress, Hollen stressed several times that he looks for the human qualities in potential successors more than just having a working knowledge and skills needed for the job.
“Strength of character, humility, empathy, honesty, all those things are the most important things,” Hollen explained. “Someone can learn operations or finance or other skills they need, but you have to start with those human qualities.”
Hardy took the position that leaders are born, not made, but added that merely being a born leader is not enough.
“A leader is going to show their leadership qualities no matter what the field,' he said, 'but leadership qualities will only take them so far if they don't train and develop themselves.”
Hardy said his credit union had not particularly thought about succession previously, having fallen into a pattern where succession tended to automatically go to the second executive.
However that changed soon after he became CEO, when the second executive unexpectedly passed away from cancer and the third executive had to resign. The experience of having had so much of its institutional memory and leadership disappear in a relatively short amount of time brought home to the credit union's board of directors that the organization needed to change how it developed its own talent.
“Now if something should happen to me, my board knows they have two executives they can ask on short notice to step into my position,” Hardy said.