NPO Succession Planning at Harlem Children’s Zone

There is a lot that sounds right about how Harlem Children’s Zone is executing on Geoffrey Canada’s decision to step down from his leadership role. It is the model used in most NPO Boards; affording incoming board leadership the time to be ready for their leadership term and to offer assistance and guidance after their term. But we don’t hear so much about this type of succession planning with NPO executive staff.

Harlem Children’s Zone, nationally recognized as a model of community schools impact in the lives of Harlem youth, seems to have been just as thoughtful about their leadership succession planning as the role they play in the lives of youth in Harlem.

1) A clear successor was identified years in advance of the move. Anne Williams-Isom has had the opportunity to position herself internally and with the board as the leader for the organization. This means that there will likely be a smooth transition.

2) By remaining as a part of the Board, Canada will be accessible for internal and external advising. As a high-profile leader, Canada represents the vision of HCZ. His remaining as an advisor will alleviate concerns from major donors and investors about brain drain of this institutional vision.

The third step to make this a success will bear out in the execution only: Canada  successfully acting as an advisor and Williams-Isom’s own leadership not being hampered by his presence. Given the care of the succession planning, I am sure we will begin to hear about HCZ’s successes that are attributed to Williams-Isom’s leadership.

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