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How to create a strong succession plan for your student initiative

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How To Create a Strong Succession Plan For Your Student Initiative

A succession plan is a process designed to identify and develop people with the potential to fill leadership roles in an organization. Succession plans are very vital in the college environment as each student only has a finite amount of time within the institution. Actively engaging in the use of a succession plan will ensure that the future leaders of the organization will have developed all the skills necessary to take on more challenging and demanding roles in the organization.

Types of Succession Plans

There are different types of succession plans used to ensure the viability of an organization. The most common method seen on college campuses is usually a democratic method. This is a more traditional method where the majority vote decides the successor of the organization. While this is a fair method and gets the general members involved in the selection process there is the danger that the successor may not have the same values or work ethic needed to further the development and vision of the organization.

The second type of succession plan takes on a more non democratic approach. The means of selecting the successor is done through an interview process similar to applying for a job. The current leaders in the organization attempt to select the candidate that they feel has the most potential to lead the club.


With choosing the non traditional method of succession comes learning how to choose the successor. The key to this is choosing someone who will help the club grow in ways you did not originally consider. For this, successors do not necessarily have to come from within the club. Reach and out find people you believe will push the club forward. By doing this, you bring in more people to the club itself and you even bring people who did not think they could be a leader. When picking a successor to lead your club, you do not necessarily have to pick someone you believe will finish the job you started. Pick a leader who is different from you, in doing this, you ensure that new ideas are coming into the club.

At the University of Pittsburgh, the student leadership of DesignHub (formerly Engineers for Sustainable Medical Development or ESMD) found the non-traditional method to be very effective in finding student leaders who could help the organization grow. The leadership team hand-selected students and took them through an interview process. Many leadership qualities were assessed as operational detail orientation, like constructing strategic emails or crafting strong promotional language for events. Even after a newPresident is selected, the out-going President serves as co-President alongside them for a year, mentoring the incoming President to transfer knowledge and ensure a strong start. Another facet of the recruitment strategy with Pitt student leadership was to go out and actively recruit new student leaders who embodied the same passion for change across all departments. UIF on that campus felt it was vital not settle for elections among students who were in the room on election day, but rather working hard to activate new leaders who had a desire to do things differently and lead organization across campus entrepreneurially.

External Guidance

Every resource should be utilized when creating a great and successful succession plan. Having connections and mentorship relationships with current faculty and staff of the university is vital in developing a strong foundation and network between the student body and the staff/faculty/administration. A professor or any other faculty member of any kind should be someone who is not going to be temporary, but someone who will be involved in the process right from the beginning by providing constant mentorship and constant communication for outside resources and advice of any kind. When creating any plan, it is important to gather ideas and thoughts from all angles and perspectives. This same notion can and should transition into receiving help from professors and other professional staff. Receiving different perspectives creates an environment that will be more susceptible to creativity and innovation.

Deciding who to contact for external help is derived from the question, “How does this person help fulfill the mission of the organization?” Having a list of goals should be agreed upon by the group/organization first and then from there someone who has achieved those goals before can be contacted. Deciding on a goal and finding someone who knows about that goal is a good start. Life is full of collaborating relationships. Creating and implementing a succession plan requires not just one, but many collaborative relationships. These collaborative relationships range from fellow student peers to the president of a company. Receiving a helping hand will bring any plan into fruition.

Writing Down A Succession Plan

Documentation is an important part of a good succession plan. It provides a starting point for reflecting on where the project or group has been as well as a place to look for guidance when selecting new leaders. There are many different types of succession plans, for more information see the subsection “Types of Succession Plans”. A good succession plan should be based on the mission or vision of the group. The succession plan should include both short term and long term goals for the group that will help achieve the mission. It is important to note that the document should be used as a guideline but should be flexible enough to allow for change as the group grows and changes. The type of document is up to the group, it can be vary between informal to formal, the important part is that the succession plan allows for the group to fulfill its mission beyond the founders and provide guidance for future students.

Lessons Learned and Tips for Others

•Have the central mission or goal in mind when coming up with the plan. Let that be the guide.

•It is important to remember when coming up with a succession is that there is not one recipe for success. The plan should reflect the mission and goals of the group.

•The plan should be flexible and allow for change.

•Don’t get caught up with formal documentation. Pick a style that works for the group whether it is a one page memo, sticky notes, or a formal document. It just has to work for the group. Having a plan is good but you shouldn’t be paralyzed by it.

•Involve faculty members, they have a wealth of knowledge and can be a long term advocate for your group.