Drive to Succeed


Standing still on succession planning is not an option

By Lindsay LaNore

The future. The past. Change. Innovation. Conservatism. Millennials. Baby boomers. iGen. Moving forward. These days it seems that nearly every article published references one of these transformative terms. Community bankers are perched at the nucleus of a changing environment. Whether you welcome this change or not, it is happening.

At the heart of the community banking industry are its people. Community bankers fill their days helping customers facilitate transactions, answering loan application requests, processing wire transactions, evaluating risk and more. In general, community bankers get stuff done.

That said, there is one area where community bankers can take control and do even better right now. Proactive succession planning within the entire community banking industry is needed. Simply put, every community bank should be doing more to ensure that its succession plan is structurally sound at all of its levels.

Experts frequently talk about the critical need for succession planning at banks, but more often than not the conversation remains focused on the succession of top-level and senior management roles. In fact, although 77 percent of bankers who answered a poll taken at last year’s ICBA Community Banking LIVE national convention indicated they had a written succession plan, but those plans most likely focus on senior-level employees only.

Community banks have leaders at all levels and within all departments. Therefore, the succession focus needs to shift to the entire organization, not just employees at the top. A senior leadership succession plan ranks among the highest priorities for banks. Likely, no one will dispute this. However, the senior leadership succession can be further supported and the value increased if succession strategy is undertaken at all staff levels.

For this reason, community bank leaders are encouraged to take a hard look at the depth of their entire employee base and take action in the following three areas:

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  • Community Bank Financial Forensics (webinar series)
  • LEAD FWD Summit in Denver (live event)
  • Washington Policy Summit (live event)
  • Leadership Acceleration Bundle (online training)
  • Leadership & Professional Development Skills (webinar series)
  • Leadership Academy Forum in Memphis, Tenn. (live event)

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1. Inventory teams.

Every community bank is different in how it is structured and operates. That is why the Community Reinvestment Act requirements note that we all have a unique performance context. Commonly, teams are organized by department or business line and are responsible for a specific service area.

On any given day, a bank leader can walk into the human resources office and ask for a roster of bank employees, but how frequently does that occur? Community bank leaders need to set aside time to review the employee infrastructure and determine whether their bank has meaningful depth. It is similar to a basketball team. There are starting players, and there is a set of highly talented people who comprise the bench. The bench is frequently called upon during the game to implement the team strategies and move the team forward to the win.

If an inventory of employees is not available, create one. Sketch out the framework of people and departments as if budget or influencing factors were not an issue. Essentially create your ideal organizational chart as if anything were possible.

2. Who is your successor?

It may seem like a hard question to ask, but each and every employee should be asked, “Who is your successor?” More importantly, there should be an answer to the question. It is the old “if-I-win-the-lottery” scenario that collectively every industry jokes about. However, it actually should be asked.

The answers to the question, when asked at every level, may surprise you. Often, the current employee may have a firm opinion of whom they are training and mentoring to take over in the event a current employee leaves the bank or retires.
Some employees may not have an answer, simply because they haven’t felt like they had permission to think in this way, or because they are wearing too many “hats” and the answer is too overwhelming to determine.

Most alarmingly is an employee who has thought about the answer but still has no one to designate as his or her successor. This is where community bank leaders need to step in and identify people. If a person cannot be identified as a successor, then plans to recruit or develop a successor should be initiated.

3. Plan and make time for the transfer of knowledge.

Take time to examine the investment and development plans your community bank has for all of its employees. Investing in people succession provides for growth of the person and the institution. It can be done in various ways through training, mentoring, cross-training and even a simple conversation.

Consider introducing each employee to other areas of the bank. This may mean moving people around on a temporary basis to other positions to expose them to different roles. It also might mean rethinking a task force, committee or working group to give other employees knowledge of the team’s purpose. Create internal training or mentor programs, or if you don’t have resources within look to external organizations.

Importantly, consider what it really means to transfer knowledge to others. Make time for this as a community bank leader. The time is now to think beyond the traditional limits of your community bank. Whether you are a seasoned leader or a newbie to community banking, the collaborative effort to share knowledge will result in progress forward for the entire organization. Fair warning: The conversation may be difficult, but it is critical for the success of any institution.

It makes good sense to document a succession plan in writing. Share the plan with your entire bank team. It will demonstrate a commitment to the forward movement of the organization as a whole. It also will show all employees that you are not standing still and neither are they.

Lindsay LaNore ( is ICBA’s executive vice president, Community Banker University.