John Lyon, president/CEO of Southern Lakes Credit Union.

C-suite succession: 5 steps to consider

Create a leadership structure and develop talent that will allow the credit union to grow strategically.

August 17, 2022

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C-suite succession: 5 steps to consider

While the need for CEO succession plans is well documented, it’s just as important to plan for succession at the executive level of the organization, says Brian McHenry, senior vice president/principal at c. myers.

“Human resources is moving more toward strategic people growth,” says McHenry. “Talent underpins an organization’s ability to move forward, take advantage of opportunities, and mitigate risk.”

Southern Lakes Credit Union in Kenosha, Wis., knows the importance of succession planning at the C-suite level. 

From 2016 through Jan. 1, 2022, the $120 million asset credit union had four people fill the CEO role in either a permanent or interim role. With turnover at the top, C-suite employees took on additional duties during stressful times of transition.

“It’s one thing to have presidential turnover, which can inject apprehension and uncertainty into an organization,” says John Lyon, who served in an interim role for seven months before being named president/CEO on Jan. 1, 2022. “But the C-suite/VP level provides stability in these times for the credit union, its team, and its members.

"When the C-suite leadership is in flux along with the president, it can be even more stressful for many team members. It further may cause leadership and knowledge gaps in the organization which makes it even more difficult for team members and requires extra effort in both training and leadership.”

‘Talent underpins an organization’s ability to move forward, take advantage of opportunities, and mitigate risk.’
Brian McHenry

Southern Lakes’ story highlights the importance of having a succession plan in place at the executive level. McHenry says leaders should take these five steps:

  1. Create your strategic people direction. Look at your credit union’s organizational chart. Does it still fit the credit union’s needs and direction? If not, determine what your organization is trying to do and what needs to be done to get there. Build the structure without considering faces and names and instead build it for what the organization wants in the future, not what it has today.
  2. Have clarity of purpose, roles, and responsibilities. A clear purpose will help define roles and responsibilities and how to approach goals while the roles and responsibilities for each position will ensure the team works together, McHenry says. 
  3. Identify desired characteristics. Think about the role-specific duties of each position, as well as the technical skills, leadership traits, and behaviors that must be present within the team. “Make sure they’re all working well together,” McHenry says. 
  4. Invest in leadership development. Now that you’ve identified the roles and responsibilities and what the leadership structure looks like, look at your people and figure out how to get there. “Assess your people and know their capabilities,” he says. “Then you can start closing the gaps and put development plans in place because you know what is needed.”
  5. Create more time. Create a succession plan now. Integrate leadership development into what you’re already doing. Change measures of individual success from a focus on production to a focus on strategic thinking and development. Delegate responsibilities to create opportunities for growth, McHenry says. Consider emerging talent when making these decisions.
CUNA HR and  Organizational Development Council

Southern Lakes’ previous succession policy and plan focused mainly on the president/CEO role, Lyon says. Longer-tenured employees were cross-trained and could step in when needed during a CEO vacancy.

“A comprehensive succession plan lends stability in uncertain times and helps team members feel less apprehension when a specific plan is in place,” Lyon says. “This in turn helps them focus less on the uncertain future and more on their normal job duties and the membership.”