What is your credit union’s long term vision for its staff? Maybe you think you have things under control—you have a strong team with a mix of backgrounds and experience. Things are looking good right now!

But have you developed a culture of professional growth that will ensure the next generation of leaders will be ready to step up when your organization is in need?

Most discussions of succession planning in the credit union industry begin and end at the very top, with the CEO. Who will take over when he or she retires after years at the helm? We see mergers because management and the board did not have a strategy for aging leaders. Even the NCUA piped in on the topic by proposing a rule for succession planning introduced in 2022.

To create a lasting legacy though, succession planning has to move down through the organization. It is a culture shift to ensure new leaders are ready to step in when called to action and that years of experience and knowledge rattling around leaders’ heads aren’t lost to the void when they depart. For that, you want a People Development Life Cycle (PDLC), or in other words, a single place to document all the steps you take to ensure your organization is covered for the future.

Looking to get started on drafting your own People Development Life Cycle? Here is a breakdown on how you might organize your document to get a good start.

“Start at the beginning.”

Before you get into the meat and potatoes of your PDLC, set the stage. Give a snapshot of your organization as of today. I.e. how many employees, managers, average tenure, and branches. Then go on to explain what exactly the PDLC is and what it means to you. Why have you taken the time to create this detailed document? Why is it important to the success of the credit union or organization?

Then go into a brief overview of what keeps the organization running: the leadership team. What roles have been established to ensure all aspects of the credit union’s vital operations are accounted for?

Finish up with an overview of what your teams do to ensure development continues year round. This may come in the form of events, training, internal reports to ensure the left hand knows what the right hand’s doing, annual planning/review processes, etc.

The nitty-gritty of succession planning

Moving on, get your succession planning section going. Here’s where you will be able to provide more detail on the individual parts that make up your plan. Kick it off with explaining your contingency planning. Maybe this is included in a separate document. If not, be sure to explain what would need to be done and by whom in the event of a sudden leadership vacancy. Again, do not stop at just the CEO. Yes, this individual is critical to the organization, but what would happen if your CFO were gone tomorrow? Your COO, EVPs, VPs, and any other critical figure?

Pro tip: Actually get the input of those individuals filling the roles today. Ask them what responsibilities are most vital to the organization and what would be needed to be done to complete those tasks. Ask them who would need to step in to ensure operations continue running smoothly. Then ask their team. What would their cohort need from others to be able to accomplish the duties of the now vacant leadership position?

Imagining a sudden vacancy is not fun, but it is a necessary part of your succession plan to ensure the walls don’t crumble should the worst happen. Your staff and members are counting on you to have a plan, so this is a critical part of your PDLC.

Then explain any other program you have for developing leaders. This may be an annual review and goal setting. How are you challenging your staff to not only achieve more in their current responsibilities, but to grow as experts and leaders?

Education and documentation at the core of upward momentum

The next section in your PDLC can cover all the education expectations and opportunities you have established for staff. What you will also find is that the more resources you develop to train staff, the better documented your policies and procedures are.

This is your chance to flex all the work you do to keep staff up to date, keep them honing their skills, and keep the organization’s collective knowledge on paper instead of just heads.

Think through all the ways staff from the ground up have opportunities to train and learn. Maybe it’s attending classes run by your credit union. Maybe it’s classes organized by vendor partners. Do you have any leadership development series or initiatives aimed at identifying future leaders and go-getters? Explain them in detail here.

If you offer tuition reimbursement or the like, talk about it here. These are all the ways you are helping your teams to grow as employees and professionals.

Lastly, talk about all the resources you have created or that are at your disposal to ensure if somebody needs to fill in, they will have the knowledge needed at their fingertips.

How succession events shape the future of your organization

Before wrapping things up, you will want to identify how succession events can shape your credit union’s future. Really though, this starts from hiring all the way to retirement.

Discuss your hiring and onboarding process. What are you doing to ensure you are not only bringing on new team members that will excel, but that you are giving them the tools and resources needed to achieve? If you are not fostering their careers early and often, you may miss out on opportunities to have them become an extremely valued leader down the road.

Which brings us to promotions and managing transitions. What is your philosophy for handling internal movement? How does it differ depending on the role? What percentage of open roles are filled with internal candidates? This may look very different from organization to organization, but giving existing staff opportunities to work in new areas and expand their skillsets is too good an opportunity to pass up, even if it means you have to fill the void they leave behind.

Throughout this article, I have alluded to the unexpected events that you don’t want to have to scramble for. What you don’t want to do is ignore the expected succession events that are inching up on you, specifically retirement. This is where strong documentation and leadership development practices matter most. Both to capture as much of those leaders’ knowledge and expertise and to ensure you have a healthy pool of internal candidates with the skills to step in when that transition comes.

“Yes, yes. And when you come to the end, stop.”

By this point, you have detailed and documented all the ways in which you are preparing your staff and organization for successful transitions. There were probably some things you were doing that you had not really considered to be part of a well-thought-out succession plan.

Ignore the urge to follow the Mad Hatter’s advice though (or the King of Hearts if you prefer the source material). It is tempting to wrap up your PDLC with a bow and leave it to catch dust somewhere as a checked box. But just like a Software Development Life Cycle, your PDLC is a living document and an evolving plan.

Set yourself a reminder to revisit it at least every other year. Keep it up to date. Your organization will change and the PDLC should too to match it. There will be new roles dreamt up, new technologies and tasks that need accounting for. If you set it and forget it, you may find you are not as prepared as you hoped when the time comes to dust it off.


  • Esteban Camargo

    As a supervising editor of CUSO Magazine, Esteban reviews and edits submissions, assists in the development of the publishing calendar, and performs his own research and writing. His experience provides CUSO Mag with a seasoned writer and content curator, able to provide valuable input to contributors, correspondents, and freelance journalists. Esteban has worked at CU*Answers since 2008 and currently serves as the CUSO's content marketing manager.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *