Lining Up Your Replacement

Between fielding client calls, managing a team of eight and strategizing on your firm’s new advertising campaign, you barely have time to accomplish your day-to-day work, much less consider your replacement. Doing so, however, is key to your long-term success. In a nationwide survey by our company, 100% of executives polled said it is valuable for a manager to identify and groom a successor at work. The majority—72%—said they’re currently training someone to take their place.

Grooming a successor today will help you avoid headaches tomorrow. You’ll avoid last-minute training sessions or other distractions and ensure you’ve got the best person for the job.

Even if you plan on staying in your current position for the time being, an up-and-coming employee can fill in for you while you’re out of the office or relieve you of some of the lower-priority, day-to-day responsibilities that may be overcrowding your to-do list. This will allow you to focus on bigger-picture initiatives and give you peace of mind.

Identify the right person. The best choice won’t necessarily be the next highest-ranking employee or the most creative person in your department. Instead, you want to look for someone with a solid background in your area, whether it’s copy writing or graphic design, who is—or has the potential to be—an excellent leader and communicator. Keep in mind that some abilities can be learned, while others cannot. For instance, an individual who’s known for being difficult to work with may never develop the people skills required to be an effective leader, even if he or she is brilliant at the job. The person you choose should also plan on staying with your company long-term and have the skills necessary to meet changing business demands. Carefully evaluate an individual’s abilities before finalizing your decision.

Ask if he or she wants the job. Once you’ve made your decision, let the person know. You don’t want to waste a year grooming someone who is ultimately planning on leaving for graduate school or who doesn’t want the job. If the answer is yes, it’s important to begin preparing him or her for the role long before you expect to transition out of your job. It can take years to groom someone to move into a high-level management or executive position. Include your successor in strategy-setting activities, and encourage him or her to make recommendations. Look for opportunities for your colleague to supervise others, such as overseeing a cross-departmental initiative between the creative department and IT. Finally, by telling your protZgZ of your interest in his or her professional development, you’ll help foster greater loyalty. When people know they’re on a career path within your organization, they’ll take more of an interest in the company and its activities.

Offer feedback. Provide the candidate with feedback on a regular basis, including during formal review and one-on-one counseling sessions. Because grooming your successor can take time, it’s valuable to provide regular progress reports. You’ll also want to work with him or her to set measurable goals, appropriate to the person’s experience and abilities. Continually push your successor to improve and grow in the role by assigning new projects and challenges with increased responsibilities.

Performance reviews are critical when you’re grooming a successor. It’s important to establish measurable goals that have a set deadline, such as "lead the design team in the company’s rebranding strategy this quarter." Be sure key objectives are realistic. While you want to stretch the individual’s abilities, you should also take into account the person’s current skill set and breadth of experience. No matter how talented a person is, asking a junior copywriter to take sole responsibility for creating a tagline for your largest client may not be an appropriate assignment.

Last, consider offering monetary incentives, perks and smaller promotions to reward accomplishments and keep future leaders motivated.

Even if you’re not intending to make any significant career changes, succession planning is valuable. An emergency situation could arise that would require you to take a leave of absence from work. Having someone with the training to assume your responsibilities could help keep things on track until you’re able to return. You’ll also create a positive work environment by promoting from within—a practice that can have lasting benefits in employee retention.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and Web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.