Succession Planning

By George Hampton

What will become of this place if I leave? That’s a good question! Have you contemplated this question? Every leader should. It may seem odd thinking about your own replacement, maybe even threatening. I would suggest that you look at this idea from the standpoint of your own success. Every good manager should look to advance to a more challenging position, hopefully with your current employer, but maybe not. Our industry thrives when we have a healthy flow of professionals through the career continuum. It’s not healthy to have individuals perpetually holding the same position for decades.

I have seen studies that indicate the average age of technicians in the clinical technology industry is over 45 years, probably closer to 50. We have seen a marked decrease in young people considering clinical technology as a career choice. I am sure there are several factors, such as competition with the IT industry, or other technology programs.

Additionally, I would suggest that we can’t attract good, young candidates if we must admit to them that they will be in a long line for opportunities to advance, because “no one ever leaves here.” Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying “we should get rid of these old techs.”

What I am saying is the ideal situation is where people in the shop have opportunities to move up based on their accumulated skills, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing for some to move out for better positions elsewhere. If this ideal situation occurs, we need to address the need to plan ahead for the event. We typically only get 2 or 3 week notice when someone is leaving, which isn’t sufficient for someone to pass on all they know to their replacement. That’s exactly why a succession plan is so important.
The basics of succession planning are very simple:

1. Identify critical work positions. Besides the obvious leadership/manager’s position, there will be some essential technical positions that your program can’t do without such as your lead monitoring tech, operating room tech, or imaging tech.

2. Identify skills essential for these positions. These folks have achieved their level of value over time. They can also look back and identify the quickest way to pass on their skills by deleting dead ends and missteps. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to record these skills and make them a part of your annual skills assessment process.

3. Identify the people who have the potential to succeed in these important positions. I tried to be careful how I worded that sentence. I didn’t say the next guy in line, or the next oldest person. I am convinced we make that mistake too often. We need the right people in the right places, and the right person may be younger, or have complementary people skills that make them more acceptable than the “next guy.”

4. Formalize the process. Make the succession plan a formal process that is documented and supported by budgeted time. It might be tempting to see this activity as a thing you do when you have free time. That would betray the importance of the process. Make the tasks in the process a part of the tutoring technician’s job requirements and evaluation. Make the less experienced tech responsible for attending and documenting the training sessions. Both techs can use this activity to meet their certification demands, if applicable. This is a great way to encourage teamwork and show your techs you are serious about career development.

The process for succession planning for the management or lead is a bit different. This position, more than any other, demands thoughtful selection for the potential replacement. This candidate must have the capacity to lead people, more so than a gift for fixing equipment.

Certainly, a solid understanding of the daily operations of the shop is important, but the ability to lead people is paramount. I have seen people in leadership positions who have an amazing set of technical skills with little to no ability to deal with or inspire people. You are better off picking someone with moderate skills who demonstrates a gift for solving people problems and great communication abilities. Just take some time to reflect on the things that you do daily with your direct reports, the committees you serve, and the external communication your position demands.

Your choice for a succession candidate could cause controversy in your work environment. This is too important to be influenced by petty politics. After establishing who you feel is the best possible candidate for succession, you will need to boil your various work responsibilities down to a few categories. I would guess that your list might be: Financial, Human Resources, Daily Operations, Regulatory, and Hospital Committees.

Due to the confidential nature of Human Resources, this could be an area where you talk generally about job evaluations, corrective actions, and other such activities. The remaining areas are appropriate for job shadowing and one-on-one tutoring. It will be your responsibility to be judicial about what activities are appropriate to share given the time allowed and the ability of the student. This process will likely take years to accomplish, which will give hospital clinical staff and administrators time to get used to seeing this individual and begin to develop trust in their expanding abilities. Good Luck!

George Hampton is the president of Tech Knowledge Associates, a clinical technology management provider that was formed to bring unique value to its clients by guaranteeing savings, capping their expenses and protecting them from catastrophic failures. For more information, contact TKA at info@ii-techknow.com or visit ii-techknow.com.