Grooming your successor

Did you ever hear of the theory that a manager is only as good as how his department performs while he's away? Or that you should always hire people smarter than you? Sounds a little incongruous. If your department ran like a top in your absence and everyone around you was brilliant, you may think you'd appear replaceable. Exactly - but in a good way. While we tend to associate "replaceable" with being fired, we ignore the other possibility - that you are being replaced because you were promoted into a bigger job.

That's the fundamental theory behind succession planning - you groom someone to take your place so you can take your skills to another level. However worries about job security - and general insecurity - keeps many IT executives from pursuing a formal plan. It does, on first blush, appear that you're writing your own pink slip. However, when you're going on vacation you train people to cover for you; succession planning is simply a more permanent version.

Chris Moody, COO of global employment services firm Aquent, believes in succession planning so strongly he has added it to employees' to-do lists. He admits he has received push back from some folks, and to combat that, he offers two suggestions.

First, make sure your department shows it values employees who practice succession planning. Second, point out that employees who don't know who can handle their jobs are underperforming and are putting the company at risk.

Other tips for succession planning:

* Get the CEO's commitment. This won't work unless it is valued at the top and by senior managers.

* Succession planning is a process, not an event or destination. Make sure your staff understands that, and make it part of their jobs.

* Define all jobs and the skills needed to cover them.

* Promote teamwork. Let your staff know that they can't succeed alone.

* Get top performers involved in the succession planning process early. They can leave at any time; tell them you know they have a choice.

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