Calling the Shots: Nursing News and Notes

Succession Planning 101 for CNOs

Succession Planning 101 for CNOs

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Most healthcare executives would agree that succession planning is important to ensuring continuity in the growth and development of nursing and the healthcare system. While there is no one right way to do it, some nurse executives who have gone through the process have shared their experiences to help.

A NursingCenter.com article from a few years back compiles interviews with six nurse executives in five different settings to discuss succession planning. Nurse executives with experience in succession planning were asked to share their unique approaches. The article provides a snapshot of how succession planning is being applied in today's organizations, and what does and does not work.

Engaging stakeholders in succession planning provides time to accept and embrace a new nursing leader. Your goal for succession planning is to effect a smooth transition in leadership, and avoid the organizational angst that often occurs when a long-time leader leaves. Succession planning allows for smooth transitions that do not rock the organization's foundational structure. It allows time for anyone joining the organization or those who move into new roles to become comfortable.

Developing the Succession Plan

If one is available, use a previous succession planning experience as a model. Get other members of the executive team, such as the CEO, vice presidents, inpatient directors, medical staff, and staff nurses from departments that would be reporting to this role to participate in the process and interview the final candidates. Develop a succession plan by engaging others in the organization in every step of the transition process.

In one example where a CNO was being replaced, a professional recruiter was hired to objectively present the position and the CEO's future options to prospective candidates. The recruiter also presented the terms of the succession plan, which called for a 12- to 18-month overlap in the incumbent and successor roles to allow the successor to become oriented to the healthcare system and gradually assume the CNO role. The outgoing CNO gradually transferred functions to the successor based on readiness as determined in regular meetings, and the transition plan was adjusted as needed in those meetings.

A detailed communication plan was also developed as part of the succession plan, beginning with communication of the CNO's decision to retire and continuing throughout the transition with periodic updates and information to the organization about the implementation schedules and timelines. The purpose of the updates for the CEO, the board, nursing staff, and others in the organization was to ensure that people were informed about the details of the plan and promote understanding of the terms of the plan.

Finally, the plan called for introduction of the new CNO to the organization. Timing of the selection was aligned with the annual board retreat, so that the new CNO would first be introduced to the board and executive staff. Another event was planned to introduce the new CNO to the eventual direct reports, staff nurses, and employees throughout the organization. From that point, the plan called for the new CNO to begin her own self-management of the orientation, scheduling appointments to meet individually with the staff, with future direct reports, and with other executives to delve into more operational orientation content and to facilitate building relationships.

Ensuring Continuity

Involving others in the organization from the beginning to the end of the succession processes helps facilitate acceptance of the new leader. Ensuring that the successor is self-directed in establishing his or her identity proves to be an effective way for others to recognize their commitment to the mission and values of the organization and to learn about their strengths and talents.

The transition process is about facilitating the successor's understanding of the organization so that she can lead in her own way and establish her own identity. In a good succession plan, the incumbent is still an insider and must allow the successor to build currency as the new leader.

The goal of succession planning is organizational continuity to ensure strategic and operational effectiveness. In this progressive view of succession planning, every person in the organization is a leader. Effective organizations support people to make decisions, to do their jobs in collaboration with others, and to engage in improving the organization and their own practice.

Succession planning is now a mainstream process that organizations use to develop leadership to ensure quality decision making. How does your organization deal with transitioning to new leadership positions?

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