Intentional succession planning prepares an organization for the next leaders at all levels — and in all departments — of an organization. This is particularly important in higher education organizations and departments that serve student veterans because it helps to provide a continuity of support for this community.

About Succession Planning

Succession planning encompasses specific procedures with organizational goals and missions while preparing individuals for increasing levels of management for future operations. As an organization grows and changes over time, succession planning needs to be revisited and modified as needed to ensure the plan stays viable and relevant.

Succession planning conceptualizes the big picture with clear goals and direction while planning for future needs with creativity and flexibility. In addition, succession planning operates with foresight, which is the ability to predict the future based on past events and current circumstances. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that people, training, and processes are in places that point toward future growth and outcomes.

Change is inevitable. Leaders who do not acknowledge change risk hindering the organization’s growth and its employees, especially in disregarding succession planning. It takes time and dedication to plan for the organization’s future. Four factors that boost succession planning: adequate criteria, assessing performance rather than potential, relevant data to make informed decisions and non-traditional training.

Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Leaders must reflect on past actions and endeavors and learn from their mistakes. Succession plans need to be reviewed to ensure they apply to current situations. They also need to be evaluated for viability and suitability. After every training event, the United States military conducts an After-Action Review to discuss the planned training, the actual training that occurred, what portions need sustaining, and what training needs improvement. Conducting a review after implementing a succession plan can show what went right and what needs improvement, helping the organization continue to adjust as needed.

Organizations cannot afford to assume that leaders will be in place for many years. Succession planning and succession development can benefit an organization by having leaders readily available and trained to assume leadership positions. Contingencies and courses of action for multiple situations, such as hiring outside leadership or replacing poor leaders, are also necessary, along with regular maintenance and viability. Foresight and forethought can save an organization time and money and ensure the organization or department is set up for success.

How Succession Planning, or Lack Thereof, Affects Students Veterans

Succession planning for higher education and student veterans can be intimidating, disappointing, or a struggle. At my alma mater, for example, we had a Student Veterans of America chapter. However, the entire SVA leadership graduated at the same time and left the SVA chapter with no one in place to continue managing the chapter, which makes it difficult for the chapter to remain viable and generate interest for the next group of student veterans. Perhaps a longer look or involving alumni in the SVA chapter would be beneficial. Alumni can offer a perspective that encourages longevity and reflection on their time as student veterans, which can help improve continuity of organizations like SVA.

Another aspect of succession planning for student veterans includes the university’s veterans’ affairs office. The one constant in the veterans’ affairs office is the school certifying officials (SCOs) for VA benefits. School certifying official training occurs yearly through The training prepares SCOs with education on student veteran benefits, access to VA systems to certify student enrollments, and interaction with student veterans regarding payments, information, and resources about the GI Bill. Retaining SCOs is important, as it helps the school build and maintain a military-friendly and yellow-ribbon school status. School staff and administrators interested in building a better rapport with student veterans should also consider the longevity of the veterans affairs office and how to build a robust student veteran program and outreach.

Syracuse University demonstrates an example of succession planning that has developed into a non-traditional, robust training opportunity for veterans and families. The D’Aniello Institute for Veterans & Military Families provides free training for veterans in entrepreneurship, women veterans, career transition, industry certifications, and alumni services. In addition, Syracuse launched AmericaServes network, which is a coordinated network of organizations dedicated to serving the military community. Through strategic initiatives such as these, the staff and administration at Syracuse demonstrate a focus on succession planning for veterans and their families. Programs and initiatives like these look beyond the 4-6 years of a typical student veteran. They are helping veterans prepare for life after the military and include families in their programs, which speaks to the heart of many veterans.

Developing a long term and robust veterans’ affairs office requires foresight and planning that engages veterans, meets their current needs as student veterans and enlists their support and involvement as alumni. Sometimes it takes training or events outside the current scope. It could involve dependents and family members, as well as supporting veterans with initiatives well beyond their student veteran time. One final thought -- ensure the faculty knows and understands the nature of student veterans. Some are active duty, with training and full-time duties. While they hate to miss suspenses, sometimes their priorities override an assignment due date. Some student veterans are deployed to remote locations while attending school, which adds another level of intensity to their busy schedule. Succession planning for student veterans isn’t just answering the question of who are incoming student veterans, it is engaging them beyond their time as a student that contributes and supports the next class of student veterans and beyond.

Disclaimer: HigherEdMilitary encourages free discourse and expression of issues while striving for accurate presentation to our audience. A guest opinion serves as an avenue to address and explore important topics, for authors to impart their expertise to our higher education audience and to challenge readers to consider points of view that could be outside of their comfort zone. The viewpoints, beliefs, or opinions expressed in the above piece are those of the author(s) and don’t imply endorsement by HigherEdMilitary.

This article was originally published at HigherEdMilitary.

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