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Planning for Transitions

Transitions are inevitable. Sometimes staff turnover comes as a surprise, and it sends us into a bit of a scramble. Other times we have an opportunity to plan ahead. Experience tells me that even if you don’t know of a pending staff transition, one will likely come to your organization before too long, so it is always a good idea to do some advance planning.

At TREC, we have been in the fortunate position to plan in advance for the retirement of our longest-term team member, David Thomson. We’ve spent the last year shifting his program and client responsibilities to other TREC staffers. This has entailed bringing in new staff, training, mentoring and developing staff, and turning over work in a planned manner. I know that many of you have gained so much from your work with David over the years, and he will be sorely missed by you and all of us at TREC. And he isn’t quite gone yet; David is still available as a resource for TREC over the next couple months. Please let me ( or David ( know if you need anything.

As part of our planning for David’s transition, we conducted an extensive search for our next TREC team member, and we are very pleased to announce that we have hired Bruce Passmore. Bruce was the Executive Director of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, British Columbia from 2014-2020. Prior to that, he led organizations in Canada and internationally, working on issues from violence prevention and intervention to animal welfare. He has also served as a consultant and mentor to many staff, Board, and volunteers in the conservation and nonprofit sectors. TREC is incredibly fortunate to have his experience and expertise to offer our clients. You have much to look forward to in working with Bruce.

As I say, we were fortunate to have the time and resources to attend to this transition over many months. However, it’s important to note that you can begin to prepare prior to knowing of any transition, to get a head start. Setting clear intentions, establishing new practices, and having a good plan ahead of time, is something you can rely on once you find yourself busy managing a transition. Since I’ve been in the midst of managing a transition, I thought I’d pass on some preparation tasks and strategies that I’ve found to be helpful to help you be better prepared.

Inventory and shore up your personnel systems. If you haven’t already, put systems in place that support staff to thrive, such as inclusive and equitable personnel policies, clear job descriptions, helpful workplans, and planned performance evaluations. In addition to supporting your current staff, these policies and systems will be needed for the new person, and it is helpful to create them in advance, not while you are in the midst of a transition.

Build leadership competencies across the organization. Support the development of your current staff by investing resources in professional development so that staff continue to expand their knowledge, skills, and confidence. Give staff opportunities to grow and broaden their skills and experience through “stretch assignments” and through collaborating and cross-training with colleagues. More staff across the organization with greater leadership competencies is especially helpful if you find yourself suddenly short-staffed. We’ll talk more about ways to engage staff and build a culture that works for everyone in an upcoming webinar: Bolstering the Health of your Team by Building a Culture of Engagement and Inclusion.

Assess and address organizational vulnerabilities. Conduct an assessment of your organization’s strengths and vulnerabilities (you can use TREC’s Organizational Assessment). Pay particular attention to areas that rely heavily on one staff member. Consider who else in the organization can be trained now to be prepared to take over a critical function in case of an unplanned transition. Make it a practice for staff to share their work with colleagues and keep important work products in accessible files. Make sure critical functions are calendared and systematized, rather than done episodically or “back of the envelope”.

Create a new team when you have a new team member. Rather than expecting a new staff member to adapt to the team, create a new team that includes the new member. You don’t want to strive only to be what you’ve always been and do what you’ve always done. The new person has their own lived experience and perspective. Embrace that and appreciate the fresh eyes and new thinking. More about conducting an inclusive hiring process can be seen here in this recorded webinar: Recruiting, Hiring, and Onboarding Staff: Implementing Better Practices and Mitigating Bias.

Invest time and attention to the onboarding and training of new staff. Map out an agenda for the first month, if not longer, which outlines which topics will be covered when and by whom. Ask the new person to set up a call with each member of the current staff to introduce themselves, get to know each other a bit, and find out about projects and goals. Have them sit in on meetings and activities so they can learn by seeing and doing, not just listening or reading. Assign a small project that gets them interacting with other team members and provides an early accomplishment.

We’ve all faced a lot of uncertainty in 2020, and 2021 will likely serve up even more uncertainty. But with a little planning ahead, you can be better prepared for any staff transitions, which will help reduce stress, ease the process, and make room for more new possibilities.

Thanks for all you do,

Megan Seibel
TREC Executive Director

Background Image: American Rivers | Scott Bosse

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