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Succession Planning

A navigational compass with the word Problem in gray repeated multiple times along the edge of the compass. The word Solution is also outlining the edge of the compass but it is in red text and is not repeated. The compass needle is pointing to the word Solution.Succession planning in the context of global recruitment and retention challenges across health and human services is difficult, to say the least. According to Mercer’s study, the United States alone will need to hire 2.3 million new healthcare workers by 2025 to keep up with the population. Unfortunately, CARF’s succession planning standards don’t make things any easier. So let’s walk it through and arrive at a common sense approach.

CARF addresses succession planning in four different standards within Section One (ASPIRE) of all standards manuals. The first reference shows up in standard 1.A.3.m, requiring that ‘identified leadership’ guides succession planning for the organization. Although the intent statement for that standard refers to some possibilities of how organizational leadership might guide the process, there is no clarity around what, if anything, needs to be in writing.

Succession planning shows up again in standards 3 and 11 of the Workforce Development and Management standards (section I). Standard 1.I.3 includes succession planning as one of seven areas that the organization’s workforce planning should include. The intent statement says that succession planning should identify actions to be taken by the organization in the event that key staff members are unable to perform their duties due to a wide range of possible reasons. So the focus here is on a plan of action in response to loss of service. However, the standard does not require that anything be put in writing. Standard 1.I.11 provides the most detail regarding expectations, outlining seven specific aspects or elements that succession planning should address. This includes identifying key positions and their competencies; reviewing future needs, current talents and readiness of the organization’s workforce; and conducting a gaps analysis and strategic development. While the level of detail suggests that this would need to be documented, documentation is not currently required to meet this standard.

The final reference to succession planning in the standards, and the one and only place where documentation is required, is governance standard 1.B.5.b. It requires an executive leadership succession plan that is to be reviewed at least annually and updated as needed. However, governance standards remain optional for CARF accredited organizations. In short, CARF’s requirements regarding succession planning are overlapping and don’t offer a clear roadmap for organizations.

So what’s a common sense approach? Given the level of detail outlined in the standards and associated intent statements, fully meeting these standards without some documentation would be difficult. And while documentation other than a formal plan (e.g., policies/procedures, management meeting minutes, supervision records and employee performance evaluations) could theoretically meet the standards, that could be difficult and complex to manage. It makes sense to develop a written succession plan for key positions regardless of whether you are applying the Governance standards. One or two pages would suffice. The focus should be on the elements in standard 1.I.11 and leadership should drive the development process. If you’re looking for some helpful hints, consider this list of the Top Ten Best Practices for Succession Planning from the insurance and consulting firm Gallagher. And don’t hesitate to reach out to an ACG consultant if you need help!