Succession Planning

John is the Operations Manager of an EMS Division. He has been in his role for five years. John oversees three shifts, shift A, B, and C. Each shift includes EMT Basics, Intermediates, and Paramedics. He reports to a General Manager and has a solid relationship with her.

Corey is a shift supervisor and a Paramedic. He reports to John. Corey supervises the BLS crews of all three shifts. Prior to becoming a shift supervisor he was the lead paramedic on A-shift. About a year ago he was promoted into his current supervisor role.

Susan is the General Manager of the EMS and Tactical Divisions. She has been in her position for 4 years. Over the last 3 months she has been contacted by a colleague about a new opportunity for which they think she might be a perfect fit. The new opportunity would increase her level of responsibility, offer new challenges, and provide a generous compensation package. Susan has been involved in EMS for more than a decade and has been looking to "expand her exposure." This opportunity has captured her interest but at the same time she feels a commitment to her current employer.

While talking with a close colleague about this situation, Susan's colleague assured her that everything would work out fine. Her colleague also asked her, "If you accept this offer, what is the succession plan?" Susan suddenly realized that she had been working on a succession plan, even if not formally, for the last few months. John has accepted an increasing level of responsibility and Corey has started to supervise all of the EMS crews versus focusing on the BLS side. With a little more guidance, it might be possible for Susan to transition into a new role and to have her current direct reports move into new leadership roles.

Succession planning allows for businesses to continue to operate smoothly despite infrastructure changes, such as staffing changes. Similar to many aspects of healthcare, there is no single way to conduct succession planning. In fact, many individuals who have found themselves involved in succession planning have found it beneficial to use concepts from several organizations versus using one primary theory. The following provides an overview of some of the key aspects of succession planning that might be considered.

Choosing your successor.
This can be easier said than done. If you find that you are having difficulty identifying a person that you could realistically see assuming your role, consider asking for your boss's assistance. In addition, asking for such input helps to keep the process of succession planning objective versus a subjective knee-jerk response.

Training plan.
It is recommended that when you are planning for your succession that you create a training program or plan. This, in theory, will allow the individual who will be your successor to see and experience your work tasks. With this being said, one of the first things that will need to be done is for your work tasks to be clearly identified so that your successor can learn the ropes. In addition to identifying your work tasks, it is also important to provide your successor with the opportunity to actually work on your tasks. In other words, once you identify the tasks and your protégé begins to work on them, you need to loosen the reigns so that your protégé can begin to tackle your work life.

As your protégé embarks on this, it will also be important for you to provide them with support and feedback that will help them to be successful on a long-term basis. Providing them with timely and relevant feedback may prove to be invaluable. You will also need to balance your feedback with your protégé's style and leadership technique so that your protégé's efforts are not restricted.

Plan the succession.
If possible, developing a plan, or a least a timeline, for succession planning is highly advisable. In Susan's situation, she realizes that Corey and John both have the background and skill set to support a successful transition. John is a strong candidate for the General Manager position and Corey is felt to be a likely candidate for the Operations Management position. Having these skills could be of assistance to Susan when planning succession. Also, because of the structure of the EMS Division, Susan will not only consider a timeline, she will also ask her colleagues and the senior management team for input on the succession planning. Once a timeline and input is reviewed, Susan will also define roles and responsibilities. This will be key so that it is easy to determine who will be responsible for which tasks or duties. This will also help to avoid any confusion as the individual roles are transitioned.

Step aside.
This is a potential challenge in any transition - the ability to step aside. Once it is determined that a succession plan is going to occur, the participants should remain true to the purpose of the process. Susan recognizes that if the transition plan proceeds, she will need to provide as much coaching as possible, then step aside to let the new General Manager assume their new responsibilities. Susan will need to allow the new Operations Managers to make the necessary business decisions while experiencing their consequences, both positive and negative. Stepping aside in this manner can be challenging for supervisors; however, it is rather important in succession planning.

While succession planning can be unsettling, it need not be overwhelming. Open communications, planning, and providing protégé support may prove to be invaluable. Once a potential successor has been identified, both the mentor and the protégé should embark on the mission with the goal of achieving a positive transition and new leadership opportunity.

Paul Murphy, MSHA, MA, has administrative and clinical experience in healthcare organizations.

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