On Scout Sunday, I visited the Blue & Gold Banquet of a Cub Scout pack that I am the commissioner for. The pack is well-run, with exciting and interesting activities planned in advance throughout the year. Most of the Scouts received advancement recognition or awards of some kind, and all dens took part in the entertainment segment of the program. Each den has a den leader and parent help. The most important observation I made was that the boys are having a great time.
None of this came about by accident, of course. Den leaders have stayed with their dens throughout. The Cubmaster has only been on board with the pack a couple years, but having been an active leader in other packs and troops before moving to our community, he naturally fit right in.
During the course of the evening, the Cubmaster made an announcement that there would be a parent meeting this coming week. Many of the key leaders and committee people are parents of second-year Webelos Scouts and are expected to move along when their sons cross over this spring, so new parents are needed to help fill in the gaps.
This particular pack has the right idea when it comes to succession planning. Making plans to replace key people before the need arises is smart. Waiting until someone leaves and finding out that their function has gone unfilled can result in a head-desk moment for the committee chair or unit leader – or for the chartered organization itself if one of the key leaders leaves.
Fortunately, there are sane ways to help ensure continuity of leadership in your unit. Many businesses and organizations have a succession plan, work to develop key leaders and ruminate on “what if?” scenarios. The steps are fairly straightforward and should be undertaken on a frequent or continuing basis – for most units, at least a couple times a year.
- What are your leadership roles? Every unit has a leader (the Cubmaster or Scoutmaster), assistant leaders and key committee people such as the treasurer and coordinators for advancement, outdoor and equipment. Figure out which are the most critical and assess the likelihood that they may be leaving over the next few months to a year. In most cases, this is when their son is expected to leave the unit, whether by crossing over or ageing out.
- Evaluate your resources. For every parent in a role of responsibility in a typical unit, there are often at least two or three others who are not actively involved. List these adults and try to determine their talents and abilities, and which job they’d be best suited for. An effective tactic can also be to ask your current leaders to be on the lookout for their replacements. This can often result in recruiting someone of like mind, and give the new leader ownership of how the transition takes place.
- Approach the prospects. Once you’ve confirmed an established leader’s intent to depart at some future date, invite your prospects to consider the first steps toward taking over. If you plan ahead, the new person could shadow the current person for several months, receiving on-the-job training in the new position.
- Set a date certain for the transition. If a second-year Webelos parent is departing with her son to a troop, the job will open up sometime in late winter or spring. Boy Scouts could age out at any time of the year, or the parent may wish to stick around through the school year, for instance. Agree with all parties on a transition date. Don’t forget to have all your new leaders complete youth protection training, register them with the BSA, and ask them to complete basic training for the position if they haven’t done so.
- Recognize the new volunteer. Nothing says “welcome” and “we support and appreciate you” like being introduced at a court of honor, pack meeting or other gathering where families are present. Present them with an adult position patch, even if they don’t yet have a uniform. Often, seeing other parents come forward in service encourages others to take the step as well.
Note that it is almost always better to take the individual approach in asking specific parents to do specific jobs. I’ve tried many times without success to recruit adults by making general announcements. Clever pitches and sign-up sheets sometimes net a few volunteers, but it’s much more effective to approach people one-on-one, discussing what the job entails and assuring them of your support as they get going.
And don’t stop thinking about succession once you have all your positions filled! Vacancies can crop up at any time, so be continually thinking about how to fill them. A good time might be in the fall as you recharter and complete your Journey to Excellence assessment, as well as in the spring as you look toward next fall’s leadership requirements. But do whatever works best for you.
The pack I visited has taken the first steps – identifying leadership needs – and is moving forward to fill them before the current leaders step aside. This is one reason they continue to be a successful pack year after year.
With proper succession planning, you’ll always have the human resources you need for your unit to function efficiently. You or someone else is less likely to be faced with wearing multiple hats, and your unit program can go on serving your youth members consistently.
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