Succession Planning or Working Yourself Out of Job

In Who Wants to be a Technical Lead? I promised I’d talk about succession planning.

Here’s the general idea: as someone who works for a living, your job should be to work yourself out of your current job by learning, practicing, and mastering some new skills. The less work experience you have, the easier this is to do. With more experience, it’s possible you have fewer — or more likely different — areas of interest, and you’re already on your way or have mastered several areas of interest. As you work yourself out of your current job, you work yourself into a new job.

As a manager, you may need to be more purposeful in planning who will take over your role or pieces of your role so you can do the next great thing. That means you have to know what you’re doing. One of the suggestions I make to managers is to write down everything they do in a week or two. That includes dealing with the people issues. If you have an employee who’s indispensable, it’s time to have that employee drop that area (ok, transition out of it in a week or two if necessary) and learn something new. If you have an employee who’s never been challenged to try something new, it’s time.

Not everyone will enjoy the opportunity to learn something new. Some people will reject all of your attempts to have them try something new. Then it’s time to ask yourself if these people are truly contributing what you need contributed to the organization. Successful managers are successful because they deliver results while improving capacity. If people on your staff refuse to improve their capacity, maybe they don’t belong in your group. Similarly, if you have someone who refuses to be anything other than indispensable (because he or she won’t learn something new), read Ready, Aim, Fire!

If you’re a new manager, the way Rich is, consider this possibility. You’ve reorganized the group, you may as well reorganize the work. You could ask for volunteers to lead specific areas. You could ask people to work in a more agile, self-organized team way. You could ask for other options to change the way you’re working, because the one thing you know is things aren’t working well enough now.

If you aren’t in transition, start using your one-on-ones to talk with people and see where they’re headed. If you’re not considering who could take over from you sometime, you’ll never be able to move out of this job. You’ll always be too valuable where you are.

The most effective employees (although not always the easiest to manage) are the people who are constantly learning. They don’t have the same year of experience several times; they have years of experience, mastering different parts of their jobs. The most effective managers hire people who are willing to and are successful at learning new things. It’s easier to plan for succession (whether this is management succession or technical contributor succession) when you can see people practicing new and different skills.

So, how will you work yourself out of your current job, into a better one?

One Reply to “Succession Planning or Working Yourself Out of Job”

  1. The series on succession planning was very useful. Continuous learning and different responsibilities help an employee grow. For a manager, it mitigates a few risks and helps her team achieve more. I had a question:
    How could these ideas be applied in a small team operating under resource constraints? (I think “indispensability” is likely to be more in such contexts.)

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