Establishing leadership development through succession planning

Get involved in the long-term success of your department by becoming a part of succession development.
By: | Issue: January, 2014
January 13, 2014

As a frontline supervisor in Facilities Management, I often think about succession planning in our various organizations across the globe. I ask myself a lot of questions like; what would happen if our director won a million dollars or was offered that ultimate dream job? What would happen if our management team decided to relocate to other institutions? What is going to happen when the management decides to retire? With these questions, and the lack of a definitive answer, I decided to publish this article; perhaps to prompt a new thought process, or generate discussion around the future of our business.

The forthcoming model of Facilities Management is both uncertain and undefined. Over the last few years in the network provided by the APPA institute, the leadership academy, Rocky Mountain APPA (RMA) and our multitude of universities, I have consistently heard from various upper management positions that in order to ensure long-term success, the Facilities Management model will have to be streamlined into a real-time customer oriented environment that defines itself and its operation as a business. That being said, the idea of streamlined business operations is excellent, functioning as a business can solidify our commitments and provide a level of service to our customers that has never been seen before.

The transformation to this business atmosphere should not be that difficult right? After all, we are almost there; our various tools give us a great snapshot of where we are right now and what we need to accomplish with our existing facilities. Things like the Facilities Management Evaluation Program (FMEP), capital renewal, deferred maintenance, building audits etc… These paint a great picture that may or may not be the best outlook for our future, but these results are all tangible facilities assets. The intangible side of a business is leadership, and its ability to strategically plan for the unseen future. A large part of this focuses not on our facilities, but rather the ability to maintain them with the best strategic staffing possible.

In an article written in 2011 it was stated that “Past success is no guarantee of future success.” Business’ ability to succeed is based on innovative thought and how to adapt to the future needs of its clients. In our facilities organizations we need to be focused on the future of education and how we can provide the best support to make this happen. Is the future of higher education the classroom, or is it a virtual classroom? Is it books, or is it e-books.

Should we be focused on creating the best physical learning environments for lectures that could be computer-generated in the near future, i.e. MOOC’s (Massive Open Online Courses)? Or should we be focused on computer storage, cloud storage, or virtual learning academies? These are all things that required the best and most innovative planning process possible. With the addition of these challenges to our already overwhelmed schedules; Facilities Management departments needs to “begin with the end in mind.” To guarantee the legacy of higher education, and the purity of the learning experience, leadership needs to be focused not on what our next quarter looks like, but rather what the next quarter century looks like.

Let’s face it; this state of mind is just not a part of the organizational culture that we live and work in every day. The stereotypical employee comes to work every day, does a great job and lives up to the attributes of their job descriptions; perhaps a bit more and goes home. In my research for this article, I could not find a single university; including my own, that has a succession plan or document that outlines a detailed plan for leadership renewal. It is amazing that we put so much effort and resources toward those “tangible” facilities; while quite literally no effort toward our own long-term leadership renewal and succession.

Seven most expensive words
The seven most expensive words in business are “We have always done it that way.” It is a recipe for disaster for a company to think; or more importantly, operate under this premise without at least occasionally assessing whether things are working for them. I often speak of succession planning to various facilities people, I typically get some rather interesting feedback, but ultimately it is just another buzz word that we don’t have time for, or disappears after a few months. In a real world business environment, all successful businesses have a succession document or plan; it is a paramount part of their existence and continued accomplishment. Have you ever heard the term “You should train your replacement?” Jim Skinner former CEO of McDonalds Corp. was known to consistently ask his managers “name two people who could succeed you right now” this was his way to establish a culture of leadership development and succession planning.

So what is the first step? In the business arena, several companies have commonalities in this area, but overwhelmingly was the need to create a specific model (job description) for every key leadership position that will be required to meet or exceed the needs of that “future facilities department.” Some criteria to consider in the development of these positions should be; at a minimum, desired behavioral traits, attitude, skills, education, credentials, experience, knowledge, negotiation skills, innovative thought, and talent. That being said; job descriptions should always be written for the position and not the person. The ultimate goal would be to hire a candidate that meets the standards the department is looking for and fits well into your organization; while functioning in a manner that is directing the department ever forward.

Once these key positions are detailed and finalized; internal candidates, who show the potential to advance, should be trained to the levels and expectations in those roles. For example, if you are looking for a new manager who has budgetary responsibilities, then potential leaders should have a hand in the creation, implementation and tracking of all budgets related to your current management staff. By and large this is not the case; in fact it appears so burdensome to our already overwhelmed management that it simply does not happen. The cost of doing nothing is far greater than action. In most organizations, there is a lack of urgency to improve leadership skills driven by a belief that an organization’s current leadership capacity—and subsequent performance—is good enough. But is it? Statistics show that the average organization is forfeiting over $1 million per year in untapped potential and lose as much as 50 percent productivity because of less-than-optimal leadership practices. These facts directly correlate with our in-attention and general lack of quality succession planning. There should always be a minimum of 2 people who can easily step into leadership or management roles without dragging down the department with a colossal learning curve.

Next level
I have repeatedly heard from management that supervisors “should focus on what it takes to get to the next level.” Vague or unclear suggestions with no detailed training plans or encouragement to support them do little for front line employee morale. Although many employees are content with their jobs and show little desire to seek leadership roles, a large majority seek challenge, promotion and the ability to contribute. This untapped potential in our organizations is a resource that cannot be ignored. A baseline assessment of employee potential should be completed throughout the department. There could be some great talent within our departments that management has no idea exists.

We could call this the discovery phase of succession planning, it could be accomplished through surveys, interviews, skills assessments, credentials, or simply asking people about their career goals. In carrying out this ongoing assessment, management should consistently ensure that employees are being prepared for the jobs that they are interested in; failure to do so results in stagnant and less productive work environments. Part of Management’s job is to make sure that employees have enough exposure to know where they would like to be in the future, this is often where succession plans fall short.

Sure we can train and develop our employees to succeed us, but is this always the correct choice? There are a plethora of advantages and disadvantages of hiring or promoting from within. I like the idea of preparing the responsibilities of model leadership through detailed and accurate job descriptions; then hiring the right person to excel in those roles. Internally, leadership candidates can easily fall into the “we have always done it that way” mentality, simply because they do not know of any other way to accomplish things. Over the long-term this deteriorates the work environment and does not induce any creative thought. On the other hand hiring internally can improve morale, be less costly than external searches, and reduce training and familiarization time within the organization. Externally, leadership candidates can bring an influx of different thinking, energy, and direction. They can provide us with new/innovative ideas, avoid internal politics and increase diversity. The goal should be to create a job description and posting that will provide the hiring committee with a diverse pool of qualified internal and external candidates who meet or exceed the roles and responsibilities that have been outlined by the leadership.

In a business environment, a best practice is to identify and focus on that core group of future internal leaders discovered though the discovery stage of succession planning. There will always be qualified external candidates. The internal selection process should emphasize the same criteria for each candidate as outlined in the job descriptions written for these critical positions. Following this practice will enable management to select people based on meeting minimum qualifications, rather than selecting people that they think may meet these attributes in the future (The good old boys club). Identification of a minimum of two people should be developed for each critical leadership occupation. Once your candidates have been carefully identified, the development phase should begin. In a recent article, I read that “more and more workers are looking for employers who can help them increase their knowledge and skills.

Companies that want to attract – and retain – valuable people on staff need to actively participate in their employees’ growth and development. It’s rewarding for employees to expand their knowledge base and take on new challenges, as it makes coming to work about more than just a paycheck.” How relevant is that to our current situations? I see this a great deal in our various departments, the drain on employees whom operate in a repetitive environment, are unchallenged and fall into the downward spiral of an employee who lacks developmental opportunities. Ultimately, working environments like this lead to stagnant thinking and produce very few viewpoints that impact the organizations ability to accomplish its mission. Worthy employee development starts with mentoring, coaching and accurate evaluations. Taking the time to sit down with employees and discuss their career interests and goals is essential and should be a large portion of every supervisor’s job. Ask them how they are doing, identify both short and long term goals, and then you can tailor specific training to help them meet those goals. It should not stop there; if goals are met, the conversations and coaching sessions should be refreshed. Remember that people change priorities all of the time; For example, perhaps once I aspired to be a manager, then additional opportunities surfaced and now I may want to go get my Doctorate degree or begin teaching rather than seek that management position. A good supervisor should be in touch with their employees and encourage them to follow their dreams or goals. Also, remember that many employees are content and do not seek out challenge or advancement, do not try to influence goals upon them, this could become a tremendous de-motivator. Present your employees the ability and tools to succeed.

In a mentoring session with my former Director, I remember him being very specific in that he would rather have people who are well trained and lose them to competition, than have an untrained workforce. I appreciate the words and ensure that they are a critical part of the development of my annual training plans. It is not enough to simply train; real world practice should be implemented through small challenges or hands-on projects. Maybe delegate to that potential manager a task that you normally accomplish and see how they do? Perhaps they may have ideas that never occurred to you, or provided some insight on how to streamline processes. Make them feel appreciated and a part of the team. People hear me say all of the time “nobody knows this organization better than those who run it every day,” by that I mean the front-line personnel. We used to have a saying in the Navy, “Officers run the Navy, but Chiefs make the Navy run.” Meaning that leadership provides direction and it’s up to the enlisted folks to get us there. In today’s business world it is another best practice to ensure that a strong employee development program is implemented and evaluated consistently. Remember the goal is to create that diversified pool of qualified candidates so that a minimum of two people could succeed any critical leadership position up or down the echelons of management.

Gauging effectiveness
How do we know if our program is effective? An article from the Harvard Business Review outlines that the measurement of the outcome, not the process is the most valuable of all statistics. Succession planning processes have lots of forms, charts, meetings, due dates and checklists. They sometimes create a false sense that the planning process is an end in itself rather than a precursor to real development. Many people fall into the same trap regarding physical fitness. We may have fantastic plans to lose weight; which include detailed goals for diet, alcohol consumption, and exercise. And if our execution were half as impressive as our planning, we would be very svelte. Our focus should be on weight loss, not planning for weight loss. As facilities leaders, the focus should be on the development of leaders, not planning to develop them. Plans do not develop anyone, only development experiences develop people. Henceforth, succession planning will be re-titled succession development.

A department could measure the effectiveness of its program by determining if an unbiased hiring process is producing the achievements outlined in its mission; and are those results being achieved through internal or external succession? The simple answer is this – Do we, at all times, have a minimum of two people whom can step into the most critical positions without dragging down the organization with a huge a tremendous learning curve?

Where does it all begin? The initiation phase of a good succession development program is intertwined into the daily routines of any quality organization. A friend of mine recently applied for a job with a fortune 500 company and was offered a management position. In a subsequent follow up phone conversation, his strengths and weaknesses demonstrated during his interview were outlined in detail. By the time that call was made, the company had already put trainings in place to help him strengthen those weaker areas. All this before he even arrived at the front door. This is a great example that summarizes this article. Identify what we want through a mission statement. Identify what leadership characteristics are desired through detailed job descriptions. Advertise them, and identify potential leaders for those positions based on documented desirable traits and characteristics. Then further develop those leaders through the developmental phase. For the facilities executives out there, I hope that this philosophical offering springs up a new thought process; ask yourselves this. Do we offer succession development as a part of our organization? If not what are the long-term consequences of ignoring leadership renewal? We are extremely good at the tangibles side of the facilities business; however, the in-tangibles wrapped around this subject should be one of the next chapters in the successes of our various organizations.

For the frontline people out there, ask yourselves this. Are you an active part of the future of your organization, or merely a part of its existing culture? Do you want to advance? If you have the desire and initiative, I encourage you to be proactive and get involved in the long-term success of your department by becoming a part of succession development.

Lynn James Fletcher is PM shop supervisor at the University of Colorado, Boulder.