What if I Don’t Return to Work Tomorrow?

Rebecca Still, Community Learning Network

1 1 17 April 2018

Let’s face it - life happens. We retire, we move away, we quit our job for various reasons, or we might even become critically ill. How do CALPs plan for when this happens?

There are a number of processes that can be followed depending on your role in your organization. If you are the ED or main decision-maker that reports to the Board, you can look at Succession Planning or creating an Emergency Leadership Plan. 

Succession Plan

Succession planning is a great process if you are planning to retire in the next few years or know a personal change is coming up. Part of this plan could be identifying and training someone to take over your position. This might mean looking at who is already on staff or hiring someone to fill your position at a future date. This process involves reviewing your strategic plan, implementing a training program and providing coaching for that person. There are a few good resources that can guide you in developing a succession plan.

Community Literacy of Ontario has an e-learning module on their Literacy Basics website on Succession Planning. I found that Step Four: Verify Documentation has a very good Organizational Documents Checklist http://literacybasics.ca/succession-planning/

The report Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Non-profits by the Annie E. Casey Foundation has some great information on the importance of succession planning, as well as suggested steps to implement your plan. http://www.aecf.org/resources/building-leaderful-organizations/

Emergency Leadership Plan

An Emergency Leadership Plan is very beneficial in case something unforeseen should happen to you or your key staff, such as becoming critically ill or being so lucky as to win the lottery! This is a temporary plan for key staff members. It involves defining or clarifying the key position responsibilities and then training others in the organization as ‘back-ups’. If you are a small organization one of the ‘back-ups’ could be a board member. Once your back-up is trained they could cover for you while you are on vacation or taking a needed break. Having at least one back up can bring peace of mind knowing there is someone else who knows about the day-to-day operations in case an emergency should arise.

The report Building Leaderful Organizations: Succession Planning for Non-profits also outlines the process for developing an Emergency Leadership Plan. http://www.aecf.org/resources/building-leaderful-organizations/


An important piece you should have as part of either plan is some record of your organization in order to maintain a level of continuity for when a sudden departure occurs. 

Surviving the death or sudden loss of a key employee can be overwhelming in itself. You may have lost a friend or colleague. Your organization has definitely lost critical skills, organizational knowledge and relationships of trust they have developed. 

Having a list of critical information for each key employee will help your organization to move forward. The list should include information on any training they had, up to date information on their contacts, written instructions or standard procedures they follow in their daily work, and passwords to equipment and accounts. This list should be reviewed annually to ensure it is accurate and up to date. 

Here are some strategies to help you get started:

  • Val Rathjen wrote a great blog, which includes a sample Organization Continuity checklist. Read it by clicking here
  • If you have multiple staff, have them cross-trained in various roles so they can step in temporarily until the staff member resumes their position or you hire someone else.
  • When developing a larger plan get others to help. Involving your board is important and in some cases critical to the success of your plan. Other staff or even someone in your network could also provide assistance and direction in your planning.
  • Whichever plan you choose to follow, break it down into smaller tasks. For instance, if you are using the Organization Continuity Checklist fill in chunks of information when you have small amounts of time such as at the end of the day, or when you are waiting for an appointment to arrive. 

The greatest challenge an organization can face is to lose a key employee and have no plan in place to move your organization forward. By being proactive and having something in place you can have peace of mind knowing you have ensured a smooth transition for your organization for when life happens. 

Rebecca Still
Regional Support Staff
West-Central Alberta


Sign in to view 1 comment