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How to Create a Succession Plan

The mission of your church travel program is important. So important, in fact, that it should outlast you.

Your travel program isn’t just a group of friends who enjoy taking trips together. Because you represent the ministry and mission of your church, the work you do is important and has lasting value. If you run a thriving travel program for your religious organization, you’re playing a part in building community and changing lives. And that work should go on even after you’re not able to continue.

Unfortunately, too many great travel programs fizzle out when the principal leader decides to take a step back. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If life responsibilities, health or other factors curtail your personal travel, your legacy can continue with a great new leader.

Here are 10 tips to help you create a succession plan that will keep your church travel group thriving.

1Start years in advance.

In any organization, leadership transitions work best when succession planning begins well in advance. Finding the right candidate to take over your travel program could require a significant amount of time, and training that person will take even more time. So when possible, you should start planning your exit two to three years in advance of when you would like it to happen. And even if you don’t plan to quit soon, it’s a good idea to have a backup plan in case life requires you to step back unexpectedly.

2) Get input from key stakeholders.

Chances are you have an assistant, a minister or some group members who travel with you frequently. These people are the most likely to be unsettled by a quick leadership transition or an unexpected closing of your program. So when you begin thinking about succession planning, have some discreet conversations with these key stakeholders. Get their input on the future of the program and ask if they have any candidates in mind to take the reins once you step down.

3) Look for youth.

One of the keys to a thriving travel program is consistency, having an established leader at the helm for years at a time. To this end, it’s optimal to look for a new leader who can take the program for the next five to 10 years after you transition. If your group consists mostly of seniors, look for someone who has recently retired to take over. In addition to having a lot of energy, these younger leaders will also prove attractive to new travelers from your congregation or community.

4) Recruit for culture.

The most important element in maintaining a healthy group dynamic isn’t talent, authority or experience. It’s culture. And leadership changes can have a dramatic impact on an organization’s culture. So when you’re recruiting a new leader, you should look for culture first: Does the candidate get along well with your travelers? Is she fun to be with? Does he embody the mission of your ministry? If a candidate is a great cultural fit, you can teach her what she needs to know about travel. If she doesn’t fit the culture though, she likely won’t last.

5Get them on the road.

Culture is important, but travel experience is also vital in leading a church travel ministry. There’s a chance that the best candidate for a leadership role is already among your group’s regular travelers. If not, you’ll need to bring some outside candidates into the fold and get them some travel experience. Arrange for them to come on several trips over the course of a year to familiarize themselves with group travel and to get to know your members. You’ll find out quickly if they’re a poor fit.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.