It’s March Madness!

| by Shannon Williams

Whether you live on Tobacco Road or on the West Coast, we all get worked into a basketball frenzy at this time of year.

In the midst of the hoopla, it is interesting how the demise of the four-year player has impacted the game. This year’s tournament has more mid-major schools represented than ever before. There is clearly more parity in the game than at any other point in its history. Has the playing field leveled by the fact that the best players generally only stay in the college game for a year or two?

I can’t help but contrast the one (year) and done player with the longevity of many non-profit executive directors. Yes, I know that the average tenure of a non-profit exec is 3-5 years. However, here in the Triangle we are blessed with some excellent leaders who have held their posts for 20 years or more. And, over the past several months we have talked with many of them about succession planning.

Succession planning is one of those things that sounds like a great idea in concept, but in reality it lives at the bottom of the board’s and the ED’s priority list. When you have a great leader, no one really wants to image their organization without them. And, when you are a great, long-time leader you are so entangled in every aspect of your organization it is hard to stop and map out succession.

But the truth is that every great coach is preparing his team for the future—the next game; the conference tournament; the Big Dance; the next year—through the game plans he creates throughout the season. Healthy leadership transitions start with a strong game plan—thoughtful planning and discussions among agency leaders in advance of any announced transition – before the urgency of making a hiring decision is a critical component of meaningful discussions about how to sustain, grow or adjust the strategic direction of an organization.  This planning is most effective when it includes the perspectives of key stakeholders in an organization’s success, including the current chief executive and staff, the board of directors, community partners, volunteers, and donors.  After all, a great team benefits from the contributions of everyone – the stars of the team, the role players, and even the bench warmers.

Coaches spend their off-seasons recruiting top talent—even if they don’t stay four years any more.  Similarly, transition planning should include evaluations of leadership and management skills needed as well as an assessment of cultural norms and behaviors that significantly impact the organization’s ongoing success.  Then, when it’s time to seek a new leader, you will know which top candidates fit into your organization’s style of play.

When it’s game time, players must count on each other.  This trust is built through time spent together in the gym, on the bus, and in the heat of games where team efforts and individual skills compliment each other.  The benefits of good transition planning include the opportunity to build a deep sense of trust between the board and the staff, prepare the organization for unexpected emergencies, and give key stakeholders confidence in the long term viability of the organization beyond any one key leader.

Similarly, poor planning (or an unanticipated departure of a star player) can lead to decreased contributions and overall revenue, painful disruptions or cuts in programs, employee turnover and morale issues, negative community perceptions and confusion over the direction in which the organization is heading.

Maybe it’s time to move succession planning off the bottom of your list, so your organization is well-prepared for a potential change in landscape. It is what Roy Williams, Coach K, Rick Pitino, John Calapari and the other great college coaches have been doing since the demise of the four year collegiate player. Take a page out of their playbooks. Well, maybe right after the tournament ends! Until then, enjoy March Madness.


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