6 Ways to Groom Your Successor

Jan. 1, 2008

A combination of training, education, and hands-on experience prepares the next generation to follow in your footsteps

You're a Baby Boomer. You're loyal. Heck, you've probably been with your current employer for 15 years or more. Chances are good that your thoughts about retirement are be coming actual plans. After having toiled for so long to provide smooth operation of buildings and strong relationships with tenants, building owners, and (hopefully) the company's fi nancial executives, you'd like to leave a positive and lasting legacy. Preparing your potential replacement(s) for a future without you helps ensure a smooth transition. The best course of action is one that combines knowledge transfer with education and real-world experience.

If it's true that each employee needs to be managed slightly differently, then they also need to be prepped for leadership differently. Customize your approach depending on the candidate's character, skills, and aptitude for learning. A blend of the following practices will help turn subordinates into successors.

1) Document

A few weeks after Bill's retirement party, everyone realizes that not only did a great employee leave, but he also took with him knowledge that no one else had. Questions about why, how, where, and when are bound to arise. "The key to having a seamless transition and not losing all that knowledge and information is to document all the data ... so they're not reinventing the wheel time after time," says Buck Fisher, senior manager of facilities services, SAS Institute Inc., Cary, NC.

It's wonderful to verbally share the practices and proc­esses that are central to your success, but it's even better when the information is safeguarded somewhere other than an individual's memory: Put it in writing, codify processes and record best practices, and keep a history. "Document all aspects of the job and develop a database that is easily accessible and amendable. Policy and procedure are key components of documentation," Thomas J. Hand, consultant, TJ Hand Facility Management Solutions, Dayton, OH, says. "Leave a great legacy. Set the time aside to get it in writing on the hard drive, if possible."

Everything from roof warranties to maintenance schedules should be recorded. If you've been using sophisticated software such as a CMMS, much of the work is already done for you. "Sometimes, it's just as simple as making sure the drawings and manuals are up to date," says Meredith Thatcher, president, Carroll Thatcher Planning Group Inc., Ottawa, ON.

If you're worried about the time involved in this project, take heed of the following suggestion: "It's a great project for a summer intern," says Stormy Friday, president, The Friday Group, Annapolis, MD.

2) Demonstrate

While job shadowing is often reserved for individuals who are earmarked to become senior executives, any professional interested in career growth can benefit from observing the rigors of the job they aspire to fill. "Spend time with the individual a couple of hours a week and then create an individual development plan to look at areas where he/she has some weaknesses. Suggest ways to fill that skills gap," advises Friday.

When candidates for succession shadow you for a day or longer, they gain a better understanding of your role and responsibilities. The experience may also help him/her decide if he/she is truly suited for (and remains interested in) promotion. "Job shadowing is a tremendous opportunity to indoctrinate people with how you do things in your organization and reinforce the positive elements of an organizational culture," says Ken Wilson, director, FMI Corp., Raleigh, NC.

If your successor is a member of Generation X or Y, job shadowing is ideal. "Neither Gen-X or Gen-Y like it when people say, ‘This is the way you're going to do it,' because they always think there is a better way. Baby Boomers who are successful will say, ‘Hey, I'm working on this project. Do you want to come and take a look? I'll show you what I'm doing.' That way, they're not being told what to do. They're learning because they watch that person in action," says Karen Krackov, regional senior vice president, Grubb & Ellis Management Services Inc., Washington, D.C.

Go ahead: Invite someone to spend the day (or week) at your side. If you're looking for an excuse to start, remember that this Groundhog Day (Feb. 1, 2008) is the 11th annual National Job Shadow Day.

3) Educate

There is no shortage of opportunities to learn in this in­dustry. Many colleges and universities now offer facilities management curriculum, and organizations like BOMA, IFMA, IREM, CCIM, and BOMI offer webinars, coursework, classes, and, in some instances, professional designations or certifications. Chris Thomas, a professional with only 6 years of industry experience and senior operations manager at Little Rock, AR-based Moses Tucker, recommends that individuals take advantage of coursework like IREM's Certified Property Manager®. "Adding the CPM designation to my résumé really helped me. Plus, the coursework helped me, too," he says. Thomas also has his MBA and feels strongly that both gave him the skills necessary to be promoted to a senior-level position.

Local associations often provide learning opportunities as well. Chicago-based Draper and Kramer Property Manager Jacob Alderson, a 5-year industry professional, has learned about fair housing and landlord-tenant ordinances in classes offered by the Chicagoland Apartment Association and Chicago Association of Realtors.
If you or another manager is willing, teach leadership classes to subordinates interested in advancement. "Do brown-bag luncheons or breakfast sessions," suggests Friday. The following steps will help you get started:

  1. Open the invitation to all interested parties.
  2. Have each participant express, in writing, what their career goals are and what they hope to gain by attending the leadership meetings. 
  3. Use this information to develop a curriculum (topics might include budgeting and accounting, risk management, tenant retention and attraction, lease negotiation, software tutorials, managing personnel, etc.).

Regular meetings can help successors develop the necessary skills to rise through the ranks.

4) Cross Train

Training individuals on tangent job functions is beneficial to management, the organization, and employees. When an individual learns what a colleague or manager does (and how it's done), it raises awareness and respect, increases his/her skills, readies him/her for a management position, and increases staffing flexibility. "If, as an organization, you've done some cross training and you have somebody quit or there is an accident, you're in a better position to respond to whatever that crisis is," says Thatcher.

Mick Drummond, facilities supervisor, Waddell & Reed Inc., Shawnee Mission, KS, recognizes the benefit of cross training. During his 12-year employment with the company, he's developed many new skills. "I've learned everything from HVAC to electrical to management. The more versatile you are, the better your chances are for advancement," he explains.

Cross training can be as simple as shadowing or receiving instruction. It can also be accomplished by putting employees through a job rotation program. "Job rotation is an excellent way to allow people to get a feel for other opportunities in an organization, what it takes to do a particular job, and also alleviate boredom," says Friday. While reassigning an individual to another job or department for 3 months is beneficial, 6 months or longer is ideal. For senior executive candidates, field experience is especially advantageous.

Job rotation has been implemented with success at Billerica, MA-based Raytheon's facilities organization. The best and brightest are rotated through the planning, engineering design, energy, and maintenance groups, etc. "We quickly assess them on a weekly basis and have face-to-face meetings with the managers they're reporting to and, every 3 months, adjust, measure goals against accomplishments, and keep them focused," says Steve Fugarazzo, manager, facilities engineering, Raytheon. "We quickly find out if they really have the drive ... and start channeling them down or up or across a career path."

5) Mentor

Mentoring is an excellent way to help employees begin to think like leaders. The concept is simple: Two professionals (one more seasoned, the other relatively inexperienced) meet regularly to learn from each other. Mentors will take an introspective look at their own processes, fine-tune their interpersonal skills, and transfer knowledge. Mentees learn best practices, expand their professional network, and have a friend in the trenches.

The benefit to the organization is equally advantageous. "Research continually tells us that, with mentoring programs, productivity increases. If the mentoring program is done right, retention increases and it helps you develop a competitive edge in comparison to other organizations," says Gary M. Kilburg, professor of education, director of The Mentoring Institute, Newburg, OR-based George Fox University's School of Education.

Mentors expand a professional's understanding of the skills needed to advance in the organization, help to increase his/her effectiveness on the job, lend a fresh perspective, offer guidance, and address questions and problems. Some individuals make better mentors than others; however, without a willingness and interest in serving as a mentor, the only guaranteed outcome is disappointment.

Formal programs make it easy for new hires or successors to enlist the help of a mentor. Some programs assign mentors; other programs provide the opportunity for a group of possible mentors to mingle with a group of individuals interested in being mentored. This networking opportunity encourages mentees to pick their own mentors. Most formal programs, however, discourage managers from mentoring their direct reports. It is especially advantageous when the relationship connects two people who might not interact otherwise or when an individual can be matched with someone whose career path and current position mirrors the professional aspirations of the mentee.

Informal mentoring often occurs by happenstance. In the absence of structured mentoring programs, explains Thatcher, "most people seem to find their own mentors." You might find yourself mentoring new employees, or even a young professional you met through an association mixer, without even realizing it. Richard Lee, broker associate and property manager at San Diego-based Commercial Facilities Inc., met his mentor at an educational conference. "I was a rookie, walking into this room filled with seasoned pros," he says. "I grabbed business cards and one of those cards came from Greg Cartwright. For anyone new or just starting out in the industry, it's essential to build relationships with more experienced and knowledgeable professionals. I called Greg on countless occasions for advice or just to get his perspective. Over time, it was obvious that he had become my mentor."

"[Young professionals] are looking for mentors. They recognize that there is a lot of experience and education that is going to go away," says Joanne Anderson, retired medical facilities specialist and associate, NAI Isaac Commercial Real Estate Services, Lexington, KY. Houston-based IFMA is providing a bridge between its older members and industry newbies with its recently launched 50+ Community. Among the forum's many goals is to provide mentoring and advice to the industry's younger generation.

6) Expose

As you strive to pass on your knowledge, it's important that you also stress the importance of retaining positive working relationships and help successors gain visibility with high-level executives.

Start small. Next time you're out of the office for a few days, put them in charge. In your absence, they will make some decisions, interact with senior executives and external contacts, and be a representative for the team at company meetings. They'll get a taste for your job and what it takes to be successful in the role.

Assign successors to a particular aspect of a (or an entire) project. "One thing that has helped in our organization is developing project managers," says Cristine Karasek, administrative director of facility services at Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, NC. "They're responsible from beginning to end for one piece of a project so they can gain experience on an incremental basis."

If you give them incremental opportunities to lead while you serve as the safety net, their level of comfort will increase, along with their leadership capabilities, and when the time comes to retire, you can trust that the legacy you're leaving will be carried out by someone just as capable as you. 

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.


Your Professional Legacy Begins (and Ends) with a Succession Plan

“What do successors refer to if they have a question when you’re gone?What sort of documentation should I be leavingbehind?” – Cristine Karasek, Administrative Director of Facility Services, Duke Clinical Research Institute, Durham, NC
“One of the ways I teach my employees some managerial thinking is that, when I’m on vacation, I tell them,‘Don’t call me unless something really bad happens.Just leave me alone.’ It teaches them, lets them interact with those people who I interact with on a daily basis, and builds their confidence level and skill. More importantly,it puts them in charge and gives them a sense of what my job entails on a day-to-day basis - and, hopefully, a sense of, ‘I can do this! I would like to be the successor of his job!'"
- Bill Corbett, Director of Facilities, Waddell & Reed Inc., Shawnee Mission, KS
"How do you capture thatintellectual capital- all the things that you have learned? How is that institutionalized?" - Cheryl Waybright, Senior Project Development Manager, Level5, Atlanta 
“We quickly assess possible successors on a weekly basis and have face-to-face meetings with the managers they’re reporting to and, every 3 months, adjust,measure goals against accomplishments, and keep them focused.We quickly find out if they really have the drive … and start channeling them down or up or across a career path.” – Steve Fugarazzo, Manager, Facilities Engineering, Raytheon, Billerica, MA
“Young professionals are looking for mentors.They recognize that there is a lot of experience and education that is going to go away.” – Joanne Anderson, Retired Medical Facilities Specialist and Associate, NAI Isaac Commercial Real Estate Services, Lexington, KY

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