What has succession planning to do with buses you ask?  Everything!  Usually when someone is talking of succession planning they are talking about how a business will continue after the founder is no longer running the show either because of dead or disability.  And that’s very important.  But there’s other succession planning you should be considering.
Recently, I was working with a non-profit that was in crisis – a decision of the Board had lead the Artistic Director to quit.  Now there was no one who was planning future events, fundraising, recruiting performers or volunteers.  The Board was paralyzed because they had no idea of what to do.  Everything had been done by the Artistic Director and their spouse.
Now I was reminded of the birth of my younger son.  I was a division director at the Naval Nuclear Power School with the responsibility to make sure that classes were taught, exams prepared and given – in short, everything that one expects to occur at a school.  Then my pregnant wife went into labor a month early on a Thursday night.  Neighbors took care of the two older siblings, my mother-in-law arranged to come in the following Monday, and the doctors were able to slow down her contractions so there wasn’t an immediate crisis – until Monday morning.  Yes, the Monday that I was going to have everything in place so we would have support – then I walked into my office and there was the phone call saying they were going to send my wife to Tampa, 90 miles away!  I put down the phone, walked out, drove to the hospital, and was immediately offered the opportunity to travel in the ambulance with my wife, the nurse, and doctor – it was that serious.  I made a quick phone call to my commanding officer and went.  I didn’t return to the office until Friday morning.  In my absence, the classes continued, including the ones I was supposed to teach, the exam was prepared, approved, and printed – in short, I wasn’t missed.  Now a lot of managers would find that scary – after all, if you’re not missed, why are you needed?  But I had trained my two permanent subordinates to function in my absence – so they were able to step in and get the job done.
A favorite question I ask most clients is, “What would happen if __________ was hit by a bus?”  You can fill in the blank with the founder, the chief/only tech guy, marketing guru, etc.  Particularly in small organizations the answer is usually, “Um, Um, I don’t know.”
Now the typical big business response is to get Key Man insurance – if the key man is out of the picture for whatever reason, then the organization gets money to replace the capability they provided.  But most of our clients can’t afford key man insurance.  So what should they do?
Realize that there are always options.  In the above situation at the beginning, I suggested the board call the chairmen of the local universities and ask if there were faculty member who would welcome the challenge of a temporary appointment as Artistic Director with the assignment to put together a few events and help develop a position description for a permanent director.
So, if you are responsible for the continuing operation of your organization, ask yourself what would we do if ________ didn’t come in today?  You’ll be prepared for when they don’t come in – whether because they quit or were hit by a bus.

A physicist by trade, author by choice, a born teacher, a retired veteran, and an adamant problem solver, Frank has helped the White House, federal agencies, military offices, historical museums, manufacturers, and over 250 technology startups get stuff done, communicate effectively, and find practical solutions that work for them. In his spare time, he makes sawdust and watches Godzilla movies.