Next in line

Published on: 7 May 2019

Anne Lennox Martin Anne Lennox-Martin discusses best practice in succession planning.

I start thinking about who has the capability to take over my job as soon as I begin. I like to work myself out of a role by nurturing the team. 

People saw the results of this approach and wanted me to do it for them too. That’s fine for me, of course, but what about ensuring the business continues to run smoothly and the team is motivated during the transition phase? 

That’s why proper succession planning is vital. Sometimes senior managers are fortunate enough to hand-pick their successor from within their team so they have time to mentor them. Or they may help with the decision by being on the interview panel. Either way, the new leader can initially guide the team on the already charted journey to guarantee continuity.

Others, especially those working for outsourced service providers, might only have two or three days’ notice before being sent to a new position or client. The best they can hope for is a drink after work to tell their successor about the job.

Regardless, it’s vital to prepare a comprehensive handover document. Your successor can decide what is most relevant, but this manages the risk for the organisation and the incumbent team. 

Let’s start with the ideal situation in which you, as the outgoing leader, can choose your replacement.

The ideal person

This person is hungry and wants to be a leader, but also needs to 
be capable. 

You want someone with the technical FM skills and H&S acumen (operational requirements), as well as business skills (managing people, financial acumen, strategy, and understanding business criticalities and emergency procedures). 

I also look for a ‘people person’ who can collaborate and motivate, and considers outsourcing neither good nor bad but of value to an organisation’s particular needs.
Healthy competition
If you are lucky enough to select your successor from your team of direct reports, you’ll have time to look for one or two people with potential. If there are two, watch them working with each other, observing healthy competition, and select the person who rises to the top.

At the same time, focus on a gap analysis to find out how to develop them further. 

Provide training and experience

You can’t make someone lead if they don’t want to. For those who do, training is vital.

When I started in FM, I didn’t have management training but I wanted to nurture people and help them succeed. So I underwent a lot of training in my early years in the 1980s and was lucky to do so under people such as management theorist Peter Drucker and business author Tom Peters.

All this buzz about customer and service was just starting, and training and seminars helped me to hone my natural bent towards leading people into a strategic understanding of how it could benefit organisations and deliver better services.

But training courses and studies must be combined with practical experience. You need to create opportunities for your successor to use their training in a real environment. Set them an outcome to achieve and have them decide how they will do so. 

Make them visible

Once you know who your successor is, send them to shadow colleagues in other parts of the organisation. Then, make them visible. 

This depends on whether you’re in-house or outsourced, but take them to meetings with senior stakeholders and colleagues to deputise for you. 

Remember to detach emotionally

No matter how well you’ve done at the job, you’re not selecting a clone of yourself to take over. Let your next in line to be the best they can be and in the way they see fit.  

Of course, you want them to continue the journey upon which you’ve set the team or organisation, but you can’t dictate that to them. Anyway, the truth is they could transform what you started into something better.

So how do you disassociate so that you’re not an overbearing parent? You choose not to be. Life is all about choice and there is great freedom when you understand that you have a choice either to get deeply involved or dissociate emotionally.

Whether you are moving on or being moved by your employer, focus on the process itself, what needs to happen and how to achieve it. You need to let go of how you feel and concentrate on the handover process.

Week-long induction plan

I once had the ‘luxury’ of three months with someone before takeover. That’s way too long for an incoming person because they want to get on with the job but you’re still hanging around. The organisation may be risk-averse and want the comfort factor, but try to avoid being around for that long. I started working from home more often. There’s nothing worse than someone watching over your shoulder when you are starting a new job. 

Three weeks is ideal: one for induction, one for questions, and one for partying. You’ve got to have your parties and say goodbye to everyone, after all! That means the new person is left to run everything for a week and still has you near to answer questions.

I have always worked on a week’s induction plan, regardless of whether or not someone is in post. It’s up to the successor to use the plan, but you know you’ve safeguarded the integrity of your senior position by doing so. 

Towards the end of the induction week, I suggest interviews with the direct reports and, if you’re not going to be around, nominate one of the team to lead the induction, and phone them to offer suggestions but appreciate they may not want any.

A confidential exchange

Exchange a confidential list. Ideally, do this verbally in person, but a private email to a private address may suffice. Provide comments on strengths and weaknesses of the staff under the new leader. Add the proviso that this is a personal opinion and we all have chemistry with particular team members.
Essentially, this is a heads-up and can include cautionary advice such as who the ‘troublemakers’ are, or that Janet is great at operational tasks but needs help writing reports, and Tony is a rising star but thinks he’s more capable than he is right now, or Kate is a safe pair of hands but she has no aspirations to climb higher.

This is an overview of staff members’ skills, how they interact and what the new leader needs to know about their personalities to get the best from them. 

Final thought: Remember, you’re moving to new challenges and experiences. Preparing your successor to maintain the integrity of your role is important, but you will also need to commit your energy to the next step in your career.

The handover document

I know the rainforest is under threat, but I suggest printing out the handover file – having a physical folder helps with ease of reference and, in my case at least, concentration. You should include:

● An organisational chart of the business so they see where they fit in;
● The organisation’s mission statement;
● The estate’s strategy; 
● Detailed organisation charts of everyone in your team, with names, including for any outsourced function;
● An overview of statutory compliance and where H&S policies and records are kept;
● Everything about budgets and finance; and
● Current hot priorities.

For outsourcing, I used to prepare ‘The Idiot's Guide to the Contract’ – with me as the idiot – which was particularly helpful in TFM or bundled contracts. I hope it’s better now, but I remember the people managing contracts sometimes had no clue what was in it because procurement had the copy. 

Anne Lennox-Martin is an IWFM fellow and an experienced FM consultant with more than three decades of operational experience

Image credit | iStock