Succession Planning: Who Will Fill Your Shoes?

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Your boss has awarded you a well-deserved promotion to help-desk manager. There’s a catch, however: Before you assume the role, you need to transition someone into your position. If you’re like many managers, you probably haven’t identified a successor in advance. Perhaps you thought about it, but you were waiting for the “perfect” candidate—or enough free time to groom one.


The advantage of succession planning is that it helps prevent rocky transitions from one position to another. Choosing the next person in line is particularly important in IT departments, where employees oversee an interconnected mix of hardware, software, networks and other components. If you have a vacancy at a critical time, it can leave an organization vulnerable.


In taking proactive steps to identify and groom a successor for a managerial role, you’ll ensure that someone experienced is in place quickly when there’s a vacancy. You’ll also provide a clear path to advancement, boosting retention and motivation.


Selecting a Successor
The first step in succession planning is identifying the right person for the role. Start by considering your current responsibilities, particularly the day-to-day tasks. What specific expertise and knowledge, academic credentials and industry certifications are needed to perform the job effectively? Additionally, try to determine what skills and competencies—to the best of your knowledge—may be required in the future.


Now look at your top candidates. How does each person’s skill set compare to the abilities you’ve determined are necessary? How about their job performance? Do these individuals show interest in gaining more responsibility?


When choosing your successor, be sure to keep an open mind. The best person for the job may not be immediately apparent or may not possess a career background that mirrors your own. He also may not be the most technically proficient on the team. While most technical expertise can be acquired, vital managerial skills—such as excellent interpersonal, leadership and communication abilities—are more difficult to teach. Long-term loyalty to the organization, personal career goals and professionalism are other important qualifications to consider.


Working Together
When you choose a successor, let the person know you have identified her for a management track. You don’t want to invest time grooming someone who has plans for graduate school or expects to leave for a different company in the near future.


If you’ve already been tapped for a promotion and have a timeline for the transition, you might want your successor to shadow you on the job for a few days. Include him in planning and strategy meetings, and provide opportunities for him to gain more visibility and experience within the department. For example, a successor with significant technical expertise may need project management skills, so offer the individual opportunities to improve in that area. This might include training courses, such as tech-nical or managerial classes that are required for the position.


Moving Forward
Provide plenty of support throughout the transition. Your successor may be juggling the responsibilities of two jobs, so show understanding and patience if any growing pains arise. Offering informal feedback, as well as formal reviews, on performance is essential.


Following the steps outlined above will help ensure a smooth transition for your successor and for you. By getting your replacement up to speed quickly, you will be able to focus on bigger-picture responsibilities. You’ll also demonstrate your leadership skills, perhaps paving the way to future promotions.


Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology (, a leading provider of IT professionals for various initiatives, with more than 100 locations in North America and Europe.

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