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Executing On Your Succession Plan Through Micro-Exposures

We have found in our work around the country that schools struggle to implement their succession plans even after they are created. Too often a succession plan sits untouched until a leadership transition occurs, and the organization stumbles because team members have not been trained on the challenges of roles outside of their own.

To prevent this, schools should aim to execute succession plans not only in times of crisis, but also through regular “micro-exposures”.

As a person grows into a new leadership role, there are two areas of expertise they must develop:

  1. Technical expertise: The policies, platforms, and skills of doing a job. An example is an Registrar’s steps for enrolling a student. This is often what people first think of when succession planning.
  2. Leadership capacity: Understanding the broader interactions of the organization, the key stakeholders, and the ability to appropriately identify and evaluate the tradeoffs of decisions. This is often a secondary consideration in succession planning.

Leaders can increase technical expertise through one-time or on-going professional development. However, leadership capacity development is most effectively accomplished over time, and outside of a traditional professional development setting. Therefore, school leaders should seek opportunities to consistently expose their team to the leadership experiences of roles above their own.

One of our school partners is an exemplar of this practice. With a succession plan in place, the CAO of this two-school network intentionally exposed second-line school leaders to the Principal’s everyday challenges. They were involved in the hiring process of new teachers, challenged with micro-tasks outside of their traditional day-to-day responsibilities, and sought out for input regarding challenging parent inquiries. In this way, second-line individuals received small doses of exposure over time to a role they might assume. When a school leader decided to transition out of the school at the end of the year, the organization had multiple internal candidates to consider who already had relevant exposure to the role.

These micro-exposures not only assist with executing a succession plan during a leadership void, but they also provide an opportunity to increase talent retention. By providing staff with a clear career growth pathway and exposure to higher levels of leadership, staff members realize how they can progress within the organization, increasing retention.

As you consider leadership succession at your school, consider how you will prepare your team to execute on the plan through regular micro-exposures. These small, consistent investments in your team’s capacity will pay off when you need it most.

[This post contributed by Brian McMillan, Regional Director of Michigan.]