Anyone familiar with theater recognizes the concept of the understudy – the person who learns another’s role to be able to step in on short notice and play the part. Preparing for sudden departures, turnovers, and the Silver Tsunami in education, means building the leadership capacity. Planning for vacancies is an essential investment to avoid the costs and pressures of an “empty chair.” After all, life happens – even worldwide pandemics – and schools must go on! You can take steps today to prepare to lessen the impact of departing leadership.
Why prepare for those empty chairs?
There are dozens of reasons that chair might be empty. Nowadays the intense pressures and risks associated with educating in the age of COVID19, are causing many teachers and leaders to rethink their retirement or departure. In fact, 45% of principals surveyed, said that the pandemic had accelerated their departure plans (source). Even pre-pandemic, we faced a tidal wave of retirements coming our way. Every single day, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age. Whatever the reason for turnover, it can be disruptive and costly. In fact, its true organizational costs are estimated to be 100%-300% of an employee’s salary (source). As baby boomers retire, often less-experienced workers are moved (or thrust) into decision-making roles. Yet, a recent survey of organizations (pre-COVID19) found that 93% are not building the next generation of leaders in an adequate or robust way (source). This becomes all the more critical when you consider that it typically takes at least eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity (source). At this point, many districts do not have the luxury of time to prepare in advance for departing leadership.
How do you prepare when faced with a sudden vacancy?
In a perfect world, we would be able to plan for departures and have people waiting in the wings ready to move seamlessly into their new responsibilities. But clearly, we don’t live in a perfect world – especially right now.
What are you or your district doing to ensure that whoever fills that chair -or takes center stage- is ready to seamlessly make the transition? How can you support those people stepping up – either before, during or after they step in?
Here are 4 things you can do today to prepare for tomorrow’s empty chair or an unexpected departure:
1 – Have clarity about the skills and characteristics needed for the job
2 – Identify possible successors and/or rising stars
3– Consider their strengths and skills gaps
4– Involve them in work or learning that will build their capabilities and knowledge
Ideally, these steps might be done in advance, but sometimes we do not have the luxury of advance warning. Whatever you do, try not to panic. There are good people there who haven’t left – that can help ease the impact of the empty chair. Completing those 4 steps will help provide the encouragement and support they will need to succeed.