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 for succession. Succession planning in education is an essential investment to avoid the costs of having an “empty chair.” After all, life happens, and the schools must go on!
Why prepare for succession?
There are dozens of reasons that chair will someday be empty. The roller coaster ride caused by the pandemic made many rethink their career choice. Some leaders who, preparing to retire before the pandemic, stayed to help their districts weather the storm. Now that pandemic life has become the norm, they may feel more comfortable leaving. Certainly the “silver tsunami”– the tidal wave of retirements coming our way will intensify as every single day, 10,000 baby boomers reach retirement age. Whatever the reason for turnover, it is disruptive and costly –organizational costs are estimated to be 100%-300% of the employee’s salary (source). Furthermore, as baby boomers retire, younger and often less (or under-)-experienced worker are moving into decision-making roles, increasing the risk of costly mistakes. Disconcertingly, a recent survey of organizations 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 eight months for a new hire to reach full productivity (source).
How do you prepare?
So, who is your understudy? Who is it that is waiting in the wings in case you are unable to do your job – or if you move to a different job or retire? What are you doing today to help others prepare for tomorrow? Planning for succession of any position in your organization should be an integral part of preparing for the future.
What are you or your district or organization doing today to be sure that whoever fills that chair – or takes center stage – on your behalf, is ready to seamlessly make that transition – ready to effectively make the decisions and address the issues that they face?
Here are 3 things you can do today to prepare for the empty chair:
1 – Identify possible successors
2 – Consider their strengths and skills gaps
3– Involve them in work and professional development that will build their capabilities and knowledge
I once worked for a manager who enthusiastically and convincingly claimed that his goal with each job was to work himself out of a job – to develop others enough to move up or over and take over his responsibilities. Part of how he assessed his effectiveness as a leader was based on the quality and caliber of those waiting in the wings. Yet his goal was to help them gain the leadership capabilities to get them out of the wings and onto center stage. Far from being threatened by others’ growing capabilities, it is how he assessed not only his own effectiveness but when it was time for him to move on. Making succession planning your goal will future-proof your district from the cost of staff turnover.