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Transition: A good organization and a good leader have found a mutual calling.

Almost anyone reading this blog surely knows that the occupant of the corner office will change when Frank Yamada becomes executive director of the Association of Theological Schools July 1. Congratulations are due both to the Association and to Frank: a good organization and a good leader have found a mutual calling.  His election marked the completion of one task and the beginning of another.

A succession plan was completed, and that merits some attention. The planning began almost five years ago with conversations with a few consultants about how succession might work for ATS. Succession plans depend on many variables and differ across organizations and within that same organization at different times. The Personnel Committee discussed models and adopted a three-stage process.

First, because ATS is an expertise-focused staff, it was important that people with the capacity and knowledge to do the work of the Association and Commission would be in place at the time I retired.

Second, the plan noted the importance of the director staff knowing what I know about Association and Commission work by the time I would leave. These two elements of the succession plan have been ongoing during the past several years. Seven director-level staff members have joined the staff since the succession plan was put in place, and every ATS director has potential years of service to the Association. I have been taking every occasion to teach the staff what I know, and by now, they are surely tired of the “stories from the olden days.”  The result, however, is that a very talented staff know what I know and will be at ATS after I leave this summer.

The third part of the succession plan was implemented most recently. It called for me to provide notice of my intention to retire 18 months in advance. This would provide sufficient time to plan the process of the search with a new governing structure, to survey the constituents of the Association, to identify a search consultant, and to conduct the search. When the ATS board voted unanimously on January 31 to elect Frank Yamada, the succession process was concluded.

I commented to the board that none of the people now serving on the Coordinating Committee (the successor to the Personnel Committee) and very few members of the Association or Commission boards were serving at the time the plan was put in place. The process has been overseen by successive office holders and board members. A single plan was sustained by different people until it was completed on January 31.   

The transition planning has begun. A week after Frank was elected, the ATS director staff met to begin thinking through ideas that Frank may want to consider as he completes his tenure at McCormick and begins his work at ATS. Decisions need to be made this spring that will influence his work next year, and the staff needs to prepare for Frank’s leadership. Transition is a different task than succession, and the commitment of the staff is to attend to the transition as carefully as the Association attended to succession.

Neither a succession plan nor a transition process is newsworthy. They are one of many small, internal operating parts of an organization. Organizational effectiveness is more typically achieved by successive little acts that often go unnoticed than by great acts that attract much attention. Thanks to all the people who made the plan work: to staff who have been willing to learn, to board members who have been careful and responsible, to a search committee who did its work diligently, to candidates who were willing to consider the position, and to Frank Yamada, who was able to find the way clear to accept the opportunity to lead the Association and Commission into the future.


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