Agriculture Entity’s Successful Succession Plan

What happens when the long-term general manager for a reclamation district retires? California’s Reclamation District 108 faced this difficult challenge, and asked Mandelberg to help facilitate a smooth and effective transition.

The RD 108 General Manager reports to a district board of directors comprised of land-owners from the district. As stakeholders, the board members’ role is to support and hold the general manager accountable for the fulfillment of the District’s mission.

The mission of the District is threefold:

  • Prevent flooding and/or remove flood waters from properties in the district;
  • Ensure district properties have sufficient water for agricultural production; and,
  • Prevent erosion.

In identifying the challenges, the District had to overcome, Mandelberg delivered an effective process that led to a result exceeding the client’s expectations.

“(We had) a great experience with Mandelberg. Larry gave us direction and process. He helped us to define our most critical roles, put together all of our thoughts, and come out with clear definitions.” Fritz Durst, Board Chair, Reclamation District 108

The Problem

Lu H. had been the RD-108 general manager for 12 years, and was retiring. Lewis B., the assistant GM, had been named his successor. Both, along with the board of directors, wanted the transition to be as seamless as possible. Often when a long-term leader departs, there will be a wide void that remains. Having trusted in the intuitive nature of long-term leadership, the Board of Directors was at a disadvantage. The Board’s tenure is transitory, which lends to the habit of relying too heavily on the stability of an entrenched leader. For this reason they often don’t acquire the depth of knowledge to create seamless and smooth transitions of authority.

Thus, these challenges had to be overcome:

  • Lewis wanted a clear understanding of the Board’s expectations and how that would be measured;
  • The written GM job description on-record was 15+ years old.
  • The Board had no idea how the job responsibilities for the GM had evolved.
  • The Board didn’t have a handle on exactly what the GM did, much less how to prioritize efforts, measure performance, and set fair compensation.

Process & Results

Upon identifying the challenge at-hand, Mandelberg led the agency through four strategy sessions, one with the compensation committee, then three with the full board. The discussions focused primarily on what role the general manager played in each of the District’s major areas of operation; organizing these roles into a logical and easily documented structure, identifying the general manager’s areas of responsibility and authority. Once this structure was agreed upon, the activities of the GM were then prioritized, and measurable performance mechanisms were introduced.

A primary evaluation tool that was implemented was the Balanced Scorecard, which is essentially a report card that can be used to measure overall performance, identify areas of strength and weakness, and provide the Board, and Lewis, an assessment tool that will be used to monitor performance.

This approach enabled the District to achieve:

  • Improved internal communications,
  • Assess performance with more objectivity and consistency, and
  • Create clear mutual expectations with their new GM.

The critical role Larry played was in compressing time for the client. Due to Mandelberg’s experience and time-tested process, the client smoothly navigated this succession in leadership, while also instituting a logical structure that was easily introduced into their culture, and into every element of their business.

“Larry saved me a year’s salary with his knowledge, honesty, tools, and frank comments! It was a wonderful experience.” Fritz Durst, Board Chair, Reclamation District 108

Now that you have an idea of how we might approach various projects, learn more about Larry Mandleberg.