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Success in succession planning requires early start

Aug. 20, 2021
Succession planning starts with finding the right candidate and fostering their professional development for future leadership positions.

I spoke to a group of maintenance professionals in the Caribbean recently (virtually), and the topic of succession came up. The group consisted of men and women at various points in their careers, with a strong contingent of senior leaders and a few newbies.

It turned into a wide-ranging discussion about tips and tricks this group used to prepare the next generation. There was the usual discussion of the frustration of preparing someone only to have them leave. Turnover is undoubtedly frustrating.

The advice was all over the landscape, but here are some of the broad takeaways from that discussion. But as the saying goes, “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance!”

Identify future leaders well in advance of needing them.

The best time to think about succession is years before you need someone. Any training and planning program should take place over a good deal of time and involve many different facets of the job. It does not have to be formal, but it does have to be thoughtful and consistent.

Let them take on small projects from start to finish.

Assignments like this help build confidence, experience, and motivation. Whole projects offer many lessons that will be useful to future leaders.

Have them create checklists for everyday tasks.

Checklists create great memories. Anytime there is a complex activity with some grave consequences of failure, checklists are a great tool. They are an especially great tool for upcoming leaders to use. 

Use their ideas.

There is no better way to create ownership than to use people’s ideas when solving problems, setting up new procedures, or changing a process. People thrive when they feel like they are contributing.

Offer regular training opportunities to further professional development.  

Be sure that the potential candidate has training opportunities available over the years of their development. Training includes formal classes, informal shadowing assignments, books, videos, and any new modalities like virtual reality or augmented reality.

Another training modality is allowing them to attend trade shows. Having them take the short classes, see vendors, and rub elbows with others in the field is helpful in building a future leader.

Finally, one of the most valuable training uses is to have the candidate teach various lessons.

Suppose you are putting in a new system or upgrading an old one. In that case, these people are naturals for the file building activities, auditing of master files, and participating in discussions on codes and configuration. Working closely with the vendors and getting initial training in the system can pay dividends for years to come.

Rotate their role and responsibilities.

One of the most valuable assignments is to put the candidate in rotation for relief supervisor, relief planner, or stores person. Place them anywhere in which they can see another part of the operation and practice dealing with people.

When there is significant work to do, recruit the candidate to be the one to take pictures, ask questions, and accompany vendors through the facility. Instruct them to ask all the questions they can think of. Tell them to use the opportunity to learn.

Provide them with opportunities to participate with multi-disciplinary teams.

The best ongoing group is the defect elimination group. Early and long experience with getting rid of defects provides an excellent basis for understanding the process. Other teams can be for root cause analysis, focus groups for HR, design groups, quality, or process improvement activities.

Have them participate in presentations to management.

When pitching management on a new idea or program, always give these folks an appropriate part in the production. This experience not only acquaints the candidate with management but also gives them some visibility to management.

Another vital consideration is that they should be involved in the planning for the presentation. Let them hear the tradeoffs, challenges, and problems to overcome.

Share learned lessons.

We all have certainly learned lessons the hard way. While some of the lessons will have to be learned over again by each generation, we can help by organizing the lessons learned. So, one good suggestion was the development of an accessible history of lessons learned.

About the Author

Joel Levitt | President, Springfield Resources

Joel Levitt has trained more than 17,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations in 24 countries. He is the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues He is also the designer of Laser-Focused Training, a flexible training program that provides specific targeted training on your schedule, online to one to 250 people in maintenance management, asset management and reliability.  

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