Succession planning for the Chair of Trustees and Governors

The Chair of the Board be it Directors, Governors or Trustees is often the visionary and strategic thinker.  It is they that drive the 3, 5, or 10 year plan and who are closely involved in monitoring its implementation and success.

Commercial businesses normally have a plan in place for the retirement or resignation of the Chair of the Board, they will have either identified a replacement and have a plan for grooming them to take over the role; or identified a potential Management Buy Out Team and are working to support that.  In either scenario the existing Chair will have come to some arrangement to continue to be accessible so that skills and knowledge are not lost.

Look however at the Chair of Governors or Trustee Board; this is usually a voluntary role and often subject to re-election every year or so.  Quite often a strong character has been in this role for several years and the other Board members are happy to re-elect this person due to the drive or commitment they show.  Retirement or “stepping down” is often not a planned process but rather more reactive.

The Board cannot assume that the Chair will be there forever, the Chair must be treated like any other employee who is filling a need for a given duration.  Where the Chair is a dynamic strong leader the Board should be learning from them and ensuring that the skills brought to the table are available in other Board members.

However, as a Board you may have to deal with a Chair who will often comment that “the current year will be their last” and then at the next re-election offer themselves for reappointment, as they just want to see a particular project to its conclusion – this can rumble on for several years.

Or, the worst case scenario is the Chair that arrives at a meeting and with immediate effect or very little notice has to resign their position for a personal reason that prevents them from continuing to give their time and commitment.  Either way the process for replacement is often less formal resulting in a loss of skill and direction and a void being left behind.

Often the Vice Chair is appointed as Chair with insufficient thought to whether this is the most suitable person.  The Vice-Chair is often the Vice-Chair because they have not the time to devote to the extent the Chair did.  Often there is the assumption from the Board is that the Vice-Chair will step up and become the Chair but are they the right person?

The Board should consider:

  • Does the Vice-Chair have the right skills to fill the role of Chair?
  • Do they have the time and commitment?
  • Does their own vision fit in with the direction the school, charity or trust want to be going?

The replacement of the Chair should be considered in the same was as any other job vacancy; and whether or not the intended replacement has the right skills for the job?

To see how Dafferns can assist you with succession planning for the Chair of the Board contact Deborah Austin or Richard Miller.