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AAHC Forum: Succession Plan Plays Key Role in Museum Merger

May 9, 2013

This post is a part of the AAHC Forum. In the coming months we will invite current and past grantees to contribute their project experiences via blog posts on our UpNext Blog and then ask you to respond through the AAHC Virtual Forum. We hope you will add your voice and share your needs and opinions so that AAHC can continue to help African American museums thrive. Please visit the AAHC forum to continue the conversation.

Introduction: The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was awarded a 2012 African American History and Culture grant to develop an institutional succession plan to provide professional development and training opportunities to mid-level managers and directors in order to enhance their leadership and managerial skills. By developing a succession plan, identifying emerging leaders within the organization, and providing the leadership and management training necessary to enhance management and museum-specific skills, the Freedom Center will increase institutional sustainability, reduce turnover rates, and improve leadership capacity.

By David Howard
Director of Human Resources, National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Museum Center

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center and the Cincinnati Museum Center formally announced they were merging in July. As the HR director of the Cincinnati Museum Center I wasn't aware of the Freedom Center’s IMLS grant until after the merger was completed in early October. At that point I took over as the Freedom Center human resources director and as project leader for the grant.

One of the first challenges I encountered was that we needed to develop a succession plan earlier than we had anticipated. We had to establish a process to find a successor to the current executive director of the Freedom Center who was retiring in 2013. We moved forward with succession planning for the current need but in a manner that would allow us to use the framework we developed as the blueprint for future succession planning for other key roles as well.

The second challenge was that some of the staff who had been chosen for leadership training and development lost their positions due to downsizing, so we had to determine who would replace those employees and whether the current training that had been selected was still applicable without knowing what the formal structure of staffing would be. This presented challenges for the current Freedom Center staff and for me, since I didn't know all of the staff, what their current roles were, and what their projected roles were.

The grant couldn't have been more timely for the needs of the Freedom Center. With the downsizing, new leaders need to be developed. Some staff who will be moving into greatly expanded roles don’t have the same work or managerial experience as staff members who were lost. In addition, the need for succession planning is now an immediate need and not just something that is going to be used at some unknown point in the future.

I’m excited about the opportunities for enhancing the mission of the Freedom Center. We are now developing employees who can be long-term staff members, and we are giving them skills to harness their enthusiasm in an effective manner to bring future rewards for the institution.

Leadership, staff development, and the selection of a successor to lead the Freedom Center are key ingredients to fulfilling the mission and the vision of the institution and will be greatly enhanced by the IMLS grant.

Museum Grants for African American History and Culture
Museum Grants for African American History and Culture