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Succession planning focuses on leadership development

By Ann Graff, executive director/CEO
Center for Human Services

Succession planning is one of the most critical responsibilities of a board of directors in an organization. A succession plan not only needs to guide the seamless continuity of services when a transition in senior leadership occurs, but also needs to be pliable in the face of ever-changing times and shifting market demands.

When the board of the Center for Human Services (CHS) reviewed its long-term succession plan two years ago, board members expressed a concern that the organization's rapid growth might not be supported with the breadth and depth of leadership necessary to meet future needs of the organization.

CHS serves more than 3,000 children and adults with disabilities in 34 counties in central Missouri. Although CHS had a succession plan in place, the board wanted to ensure continuity of leadership as the organization's service needs continued to expand.

Committee crafts a leadership project
At the board's request, the Director's Leadership Team—composed of senior staff members who report directly to the executive director/CEO—formed a Leadership Development Committee. The Director's Leadership Team selected staff members to serve on the committee who represented each program area within the organization and were known to demonstrate creative or managerial qualities.

The committee developed a team charter for its leadership development project. Committee members agreed that the desired outcomes of the project would be:

  • Development and retention of innovative leaders to guide the organization into the future.
  • Increased value of the concept of shared leadership and a leadership development process.
  • Creation of new leadership opportunities throughout the organization.
  • Preparation of staff ready to step up to new opportunities.
  • Visionary ideas.
  • A greater, better, and more effective organizational mission and vision.

Elaine Horn, past mayor of Sedalia, addresses participants in a Leadership Development Program seminar.
Above: Elaine Horn, past mayor of Sedalia, addresses participants in a Leadership Development Program seminar.

Next, the committee identified the scope of the project:

  • Components of a Leadership Development Program.
  • The number of initial participants in the program, including:
    • How participants would be identified and chosen.
    • The application process.
  • Costs of the program.
  • Ways to promote the program throughout the organization.
  • Training time line of the program.

After months of work, the committee crafted a plan that called for the launch of a comprehensive Leadership Development Program. When the committee presented its plan to the Director's Leadership Team, the plan was readily embraced. Having completed its assignment, the committee disbanded, and the Director's Leadership Team put the Leadership Development Program plan into action.

Leadership Development Program features monthly seminars and mentorings
When the Leadership Development Program was explained to all of the organization's staff members, sixteen individuals applied to participate in the program's initial year. The Director's Leadership Team evaluated each application and chose six individuals.

Each month, the program participants attend a full-day leadership seminar that is facilitated by the CHS human resource department. During the first part of the day, a guest speaker, who is either a board member or community leader, presents information on a particular topic. Participants ask questions and discuss issues of that day's topic with the presenter. The second half of the day is spent working on a class project.

Debby Sanders, director of administration/CFO of CHS, mentors Jeff Cott, the organization's program manager for Community Living.
Above: Debby Sanders, director of administration/CFO of CHS, mentors Jeff Cott, the organization's program manager for Community Living.

Participants in the first year's program selected internal communications as its class project and are producing short videos of staff members' testimonials. In the videos, staff members describe how they carry out the mission and vision of the organization in their respective program areas.

The videos help define leadership qualities, and they can also be used in staff recruitment and new staff orientation sessions. The videos will be placed on the CHS public website and might be eventually compiled into an organizational video.

Each of the six participants in the Leadership Development Program was assigned a mentor from the Director's Leadership Team. The participants meet monthly with their mentors and, together, they create a personal leadership plan for each individual. The plans help direct participants as they prepare for becoming CHS leaders.

A recent CARF International survey report observed, "CHS has developed an excellent in-house leadership program designed to identify and develop future leaders to benefit the organization and the service delivery system in general."

The Leadership Development Program is almost half-way through year two, and several lessons have been learned. In the second year, CHS has developed a partnership with State Fair Community College to provide community leaders/teachers for monthly coursework. It is also providing the leadership assessment process in the first month of the class. The “job description” for mentors has been redefined to assure that each class participant is receiving a high quality mentor/student relationship. Some members of the first year class are acting as mentors for the second year class. Each participant benefits from the mentoring process, and several participants have begun to apply their new leadership skills to work with other staff members in their program areas.

By developing leaders who can drive the organization and service delivery into the future, CHS minimizes its risk of turmoil in times of leadership transition and reinforces its succession planning.

About the Center for Human Services
The founding of Center for Human Services (CHS) in 1955 was rooted in a belief that everyone has abilities and dreams and should live full lives in their own communities. With central offices in Sedalia, Missouri, CHS is now an umbrella for six corporations and four distinct program areas: Family and Child Development, Employment Services, Community Living, and Service Coordination.

CHS strives to:

  • Ensure that children with disabilities receive excellent supports.
  • Provide adults with disabilities with many options for community housing.
  • Offer new opportunities for employment for persons with disabilities.

CHS' history is full of stories of individuals with disabilities who grew up, attended school, went to work, and became successful members of their communities. The organization's history is also rich with stories of caring communities that provide support to make these persons' dreams a reality.

For more information about CHS and its Leadership Development Program, visit the organization's website at

About the author

Ann Graff

Ann Graff has served with the Center for Human Services (CHS) for 27 years. She joined the organization in its Community Living program and was soon promoted to various director positions in the organization. After a brief leave from CHS to gain executive experience with another nonprofit organization, Ann was named the executive director/CEO of CHS six years ago.

Ann is committed to serving the community and to promoting CHS at the state and national levels. She has served on numerous civic boards and is past president of the Missouri Association of County Developmental Disabilities Services and continues as a member of the association's legislative committee. Her service includes holding seats on the boards of Economic Development Sedalia–Pettis County, Enhanced Enterprise Zone, Sedalia Tax Increment Financing Commission, United Way, Salvation Army, and Sedalia Blue Ribbon Committee. She was recently elected as the South-Central representative to the National Council of SourceAmerica® Employers.

Ann holds a B.S.E. in special education and an M.A. in management and human resource development.

(Historical Newsletter Articles)

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