Who's planning to take your job?

It is always difficult to think that some else is capable of doing your job. Of course, it is even more challenging to think that someone–anyone–can do it better than you. However, that is exactly what you should be thinking about. I would go so far as to say; you should not just be thinking about it, you should be planning for it. You should not be concerned about who is planning to take your job–you should be concentrating on the person to whom you are planning to give your job.

A good IT manager should always be thinking about the person within their organization (or company) that is ready to sit in their chair. That thought process should be key, for a variety of reasons. First, it allows you to quickly move into the choice opportunity that just opened up within the company. This is the senior management position that you have been patiently waiting for over the past couple of years. It is the key opportunity of your career. Now, you can confidently let your management know that there will not be a “hole” in your organization if you were to immediately accept the offer. Why? Because you know exactly who will be your replacement.

Second, it ensures that you are developing good, strong systems professionals. You and your company will be the primary beneficiaries of highly qualified people in your organization. These are the people that can easily step into your position. As a result, you will be seen as a good developer of people.

Finally, you will have a clear picture of the skill level of the people in your organization. This knowledge will help you balance your ongoing workload.

A side benefit, of course, will be your ability to take that long needed vacation you and your family have been talking about for the past couple of years. You can take the time off knowing that things will be handled appropriately and with few vacation disrupting phone calls.

The question is, “How do I create an environment like this?”

The answer is, “Create a succession plan”. In many companies, the formal succession planning process is reserved for the top level positions within the company. There are a few corporations (which I believe are more progressive) that “push” succession planning down through all levels in the company. However, it has been my experience that there are more of the former than the later. Regardless of your company’s practice, you can establish a succession planning process within your organization and realize the benefits. There are many elaborate succession planning methods that take up volumes of text. However, here is a simple (and effective) approach to identifying and developing your replacement.

Identify Potential Candidates

First, create a set of criteria that you think a person must meet in order to effectively do your job. Then, develop a list of the top ten people that you feel can do your job, either now or in the near future. Preferably, the list should contain people from your organization although this is not a requirement. The people on your list may or may not have the skills to step into your position today. However, these are people that you feel could, at some point, fill your position.

  Rank and Categorize the Selected Candidates

Rank the people from 1 to 10 (1 being the most qualified) on how well they can do your job based on the criteria that you established earlier. Eliminate the bottom person. Place the remaining nine into three categories. The three categories are:

  1. Can Fill This Position Immediately – These people can assume your current position immediately with little or no additional training or development.
  2. Can Fill This Position Within Six Months – These people could assume your position within the next six months with the proper training and development.
  3. Can Fill This Position In One Year - These people could assume your position within the next twelve months with the proper training and development.

Ideally, there will be three people in each category—especially, the “Can Fill This Position Immediately” category. You need to eliminate anyone that does not fall into any of the categories. You should be concerned with any category that has major gaps–particularly if the gap is in the first category. The lack of candidates could mean that you could be “stuck” in your position for a very long time.

Create Development Plans

Create a development plan for each of the people in each category (assuming they are all in your organization). In the first category, the plan should consist of assignments that would help the individuals to “hone” their skills and knowledge about your job. This may consist of attending meetings on your behalf; assuming your position when you are out of the office; and/or shadowing you in your job during abnormal circumstances. This will expose them to all aspects of your job. You should connect them with a mentor who is at your level or above. Ideally, the person selected as their mentor would be from another department.

The plan for the second category should include all of the above, however, on a less frequent basis than the people in the first category. In addition, you should provide these individuals with formal training in the areas where you feel they do not adequately possess the skills for the job. You may want to consider becoming their mentor.

You should develop a progressive plan for the people in the third category. The first part of the plan should be devoted to formal training in the areas where the skills are missing. The next step would be to establish a mentor for these individuals. The mentor could be yourself or one of the members of the first category. Finally, you should work them into performing the development activities that you outlined for the category one people. The frequency of their participation in these activities should be similar to the people selected in category two. This step will probably not occur for about six to nine months.

There may be people on your list that are not in your organization. You should get concurrence from their manager that they are, in fact, an appropriate candidate for your job. Then you should work with their manager on the individual’s development plans.

The Final Step

The last step in the process is simple… execute the plan. You should review your plan every six months and make any necessary adjustments. These adjustments may be based on the progress the people have made (i.e. moved up in a category); availability of the people (i.e. they may have already moved on to other assignments); or availability of new candidates.

Of course, the most important final step is to ensure that your boss has a succession plan for you.