The Consultant's Desk

The Consultant's Desk
Poring over the details on your behalf

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Succession Planning Papal Style

The danger is real. A certain routine becomes so ingrained that we stop thinking about alternatives. We do no planning nor stretching to reach greater heights of accomplishment. Worse yet, we forget about those who will succeed us when we're gone. The consequence of that is leaving a vacancy, a void that must be filled by another who doesn't have the benefit of our tutelage and mentorship.

Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he is going to resign on February 28. To say the announcement cause a small stir would be more than understatement. But it brings up a concern that definitely needs to be addressed by all organizations. The papacy is a prime example of the consequences of following an unwise practice to the detriment of the organization.

The Church has gone for more than 600 years without doing any formal succession planning. Of course the stations and protocols and deportment are followed. Etiquette is closely observed. But when it comes to choosing a new pope, little to nothing has been done to groom some logical candidates for the office. The Cardinals must look among their followers (of the cloth) and determine who is the most enlightened to take the reigns after the previous person who held the position died. Then the Cardinals sit in their secret chamber and cast their votes, waiting for the magical moment when they can send up a plume of white smoke that signals they have successfully voted for the right person to lead The Church for the next several decades.

Unfortunately, the successor then needs to rely on more superstition (that he will not die a brief time after being selected by the august body of Cardinals) and embark on what that particular person presumes is the correct direction for The Church and its followers. Has there been time for conversations about policy or change? Maybe but for the most part, those thoughts were sent up in sermons and papers. The reasoning behind the conclusions is vague and not part of a public record.

The resignation of Benedict raises some additional issues that most corporations and businesses include in their officers and directors plans - in the bylaws. Provisions for an annuity, a retirement fund, protocols for how to treat the outgoing Pope compared with the inductee. As a person who has retired, does the former Pope still follow the strictures that normally apply to a priest or does this person become a lay person? Now that he is no longer part of the inner circle, someone must determine whether he can continue to be associated with it and to what degree. What types of things will the outgoing pope be allowed to do is another matter that needs to be considered.

Corporate bylaws provide that should a director or officer reach a point wherein they are no longer able to fulfill the duties of their office, they may take a leave of absence until the condition is brought under control. In the alternative, they may step down from office permanently, providing the body with a date when the resignation will take effect, and request that the Board select a successor. Informally, the Board will consult with the outgoing officer to review potential candidates for the seat. Among the candidates will be those who were put into the succession pool. If none of them prove adequate for the directions in which the organization needs to go, a Selection Committee (like the College of Cardinals) will be created and a search will begin for a successor.

The point is, there are "i"s to be dotted and "t"s to be crossed. There are people who have been in the pipeline who were being groomed for taking the reigns at the right time. But The Church hasn't been functioning in that way. Perhaps because it got into a rut and started doing things according to the old adage of "but that's the way we've always done it" instead of looking at retirement, and not death in office, as another policy matter that's handled in a business manner.

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