Succession planning

What is succession planning?

It is the process of preparing for someone to take over a role from another person, in order to make the transition as smooth as possible, as well as having a plan for emergency cover should any role suddenly become vacant or temporarily lapsed. There are three key aspects to succession planning:

  • The sharing of information, ensuring that knowledge is not restricted to just one person so that all issues can be picked up if something unexpected happens

  • A plan for recruitment, to help you find the right people for each role

  • A plan for transition, insuring a smooth handover from one role holder to the next which helps to ensure there is no ‘gap in service’

Why is it important?

  • It helps you to make it easy for new people to join the committee

  • It allows for a more regular influx of new skills and fresh ideas

  • It ensures that everyone knows what their role is and gives them a structure to work to

  • It ensures a fair division of work so that all jobs are covered but people aren’t overloaded

  • It ensures a smooth handover between role-holders with no loss of service

  • It allows you to deliver a better service to your members, audience and other interested parties

Be aware that getting your committee on board with succession planning may potentially be difficult – people might think it is a process designed to replace them and you don’t want to alienate people before you start! The points above should help you to explain why it is relevant and important.

Sharing information 

The first step to ensuring all roles can be covered if necessary is to ensure that knowledge is shared. There are several ways to do this:

  • Agree a way of keeping everyone in the loop – even if it’s just regular updates at committee meetings or by email. Not only does this encourage people to do the things they are supposed to, but it also means more people are aware of what stage things are at if something suddenly has to be re-allocated.

  • Consider holding more frequent committee meetings until this information is established, so that everyone can really get on top of what is happening. Investing time in this now will avoid problems later.

  • A key consideration is the role of the chair. We would recommend that the chair keeps a list of who is responsible for what, checks in with role holders regularly outside of committee meetings and takes responsibility for delegating tasks to others when appropriate.  We will have guidance on the role of the chair to follow shortly.

  • Keep it as simple as you can – over-burdensome reporting can put people off and you may lose key players if you ask them to spend too much time reporting back.

  • Consider how you share documents – Google Drive, One Drive and Dropbox are all common solutions. Make sure all information that you might need is saved in this location. This includes key contact information (e.g. venue contacts, music hire information, marketing contacts, social media logins), financial reports, committee meeting minutes, role descriptions and ‘how-to’ guides so that everyone can access whatever they need to. Password protect your shared drive and change the password each time someone leaves the committee.

  • Try to have more signatories on the bank account than you need. There’s nothing worse than not being able to pay a bill promptly because you can’t get someone to countersign your cheque. Having a number of people to choose from alleviates that pressure. Consider asking someone other than the treasurer to hold a spare cheque book just in case!

Recruiting new committee members

Many groups find that it’s the same people who stay on the committee year after year, and it is hard to bring in new blood and new ideas. Too often you are met with a wall of silence when you ask if anyone is prepared to take on a vacant role. The reasons why people don’t want to volunteer are many and varied – here are a few of the most common:

  • It looks like hard work

  • They don’t have enough time

  • They don’t think they can make a meaningful contribution

  • They don’t want to get involved in committee politics

  • They worry about the legal responsibilities of being a trustee

You can overcome many if not all of these objections if you take a subtle and slow approach to recruitment.

  • Take the time to talk to your members individually during rehearsal breaks and find out more about them. General chat about their lives will help you discover how busy they are, what skills and experience they have, and how they feel about your group in general. This will help you to decide whether they are worth courting for the committee.

  • Ask people to do one small thing, rather than take on a whole role. If they can see you are not making big demands on them and their time, they are more likely to help, and from there it’s possible they could become even more involved.

  • Consider allowing people to take on roles without officially being on the committee, so that they don’t feel under any legal or ‘political’ pressure. So long as they are reporting to someone else on the committee, they can still be part of a cohesive team.

There is a perception that committee meetings can be dull events – and they can - if you let them! But a positive meeting with a good atmosphere will enthuse those who attend, make joining and staying on the committee a more attractive proposition, and hopefully fire people up to do even more for your group. Here are some things to consider:

  • Keep meetings concise by not getting bogged down in the details. Minor things can be sorted out by email or a quick conflab in the rehearsal break – use meetings to discuss the bigger picture.

  • Make as few demands on people as possible. Yes there are things that need to be done, but don’t force them on to people or cause them to feel guilty about not doing them. Breaking big jobs down into smaller elements and sharing them between several people is a really good way of making tasks more palatable.

  • Recognise that life gets in the way and allow people to be flexible. Two people assigned to a task means that if one person suddenly becomes unavailable, the other can pick up the job without too much fuss. Consider allowing those who live further away or who have childcare issues to join in with meetings by Skype.

  • Add a social element to your meeting – drinks or food before or after, for example. We know of one committee who always have a mini ‘bake-off’ at meetings! But do keep the social element separate from the business – ensure there is a clear dividing line, so that people don’t drift go on a tangent when important items are being discussed.

  • Consider where your meetings are held so that they can be as focused as they need to be. Is the local bar/coffee shop/restaurant a bit too noisy for a really good discussion? If you’re in someone’s home, will you be disturbed by other members of their family? If you’re meeting before or after a rehearsal, will other members coming and going disturb your meeting?

Finally, remember that people are more likely to contribute to your group in some way if they believe their efforts are worthwhile and that they are making a difference.

  • Recognise the people who are helping you and acknowledge their contributions. Remember to always say thank you, consider gifts or cards if appropriate.

  • Thank committee members formally in meetings (especially your AGM) and have it minuted.

  • Thank volunteers by name in programmes if you have space.

  • Listen to suggestions from your wider membership even if you’ve heard them before!

  • Value the contributions that people make, show them that you have taken them on board and if you decide not to follow them, offer clear explanations as to why not.

Ensuring a smooth transition 

When it comes to handing over a role, the best transitions are done over time, with two people working side-by-side. If this is impossible, you should consider having written instructions or guidance for a successor to follow.

  • Consider having fixed time limits for positions so that you know when a handover is coming up and can build in enough time to achieve it.

  • Consider having a system where one role holder takes over from another automatically, e.g. the vice chair becomes the next chair, or the back up person for the treasurer then takes over that role.

  • Make sure that there is always another person who knows what the principal role holder does and who can access the relevant information in an emergency.

  • Consider having an induction process or a checklist of things that new people would need to know in order to carry out their role e.g. principal duties, passwords for shared drives, frequency of committee meetings, how and when to report etc. Think about what you wanted to know when you were new!

  • Take your time and don’t rush the process, at the end of the day it’s about people.

Some things to bear in mind

  • As committee members and/or trustees, it is legally your responsibility to ensure that your group is looking to the future and making contingency plans, so that the group is protected should something happen.

  • It’s also important that you recognise and plan for your other responsibilities in terms of ensuring that all operations and actions are carried out in the best interests of the group.

  • You don’t always have time in rehearsals and committee meetings to talk about some of the wider issues – it would be good to spend some separate dedicated time discussing some of these issues, so that you can give them the attention they require.

  • Don’t be afraid to recruit a committee member from outside your group. If you don’t have the skills you need amongst your membership, maybe a local volunteer or student would like to support you in order to gain some experience to add to their C.V. Most committees have the power to co-opt people, so it’s easier to include non-members than it seems.

  • Finally, if you invest some time in restructuring, it could help to lessen the burdens of current committee members and get more people involved, making the question of succession easier to deal with when the need arises.

Succession planning is a great thing to do, but it’s only half the story. You should also have a strategic plan in place for your group, which gives a solid foundation from which to build your succession plan. You can find out more in our guide to strategic planning.

We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.