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Submitted by suedavis on


How do you do succession planning when most of your team is on a career track that doesn't lead to your job?

We have three different career tracks for technical employees.  One is a technical advancement track where senior individual contributors can advance to "principal" and "senior principal" levels that are horizontal dashed lines from directors and VPs, setting technical direction and affecting multiple teams and projects, but fundamentally remaining an individual contributor. Another is a program management track. The third is line management, which leads through my job to the actual director/VP/SVP slots if you advance far enough.

In my twenties, I was sure I would want to have stayed on the "principal" (or "architect" in other organizations) track, and it was only about five years ago that I became interested in being a manager. Many of my team members are in their twenties, and their next career steps are going to be to the next couple of levels in the individual contributor track in any event. But of my top performers who are stepping up and growing beyond their current levels, none are interested in switching off the principal track and onto line management. I've got one on the program management track, and he's got promise, but he doesn't want to switch tracks, either.

I've got good traction, and I'm making headway in developing everyone... but I don't have anyone who actually wants to be my successor. That's not rare, and my company hires a lot of front line managers from outside. Is there something else that I should be doing?

leeadams's picture

Hii Sir, Thanks for sharing your opinion on succession planing on multiple career track. Would you please tell us the planing strategy for this?

mattpalmer's picture

 In my vision of succession planning, it's not necessary to have your successor identified.  Sure, it makes it a bit easier to have the "I want a promotion" conversation with your boss if you can say "Bob's ready to take my job, because of X, Y, and Z".  If you can say "I've talked to all my people, and they're all keen to stay on the technical track" at least your boss knows that your position is something that needs to be filled from outside the immediate chain of command.

For your people to get the most benefit, you still need to know where they want to go.  That way you can ensure that you can make a good case for getting them a promotion or move into another part of the organisation as they're ready.  To me, that's the real value of Manager Tools-style succession planning -- knowing what shape of hole you should keep an eye out for for each of your people, rather than just trying to work out who's going to fill your shoes when you're gone.

By the way, kudos to your organisation for having a plan for allowing technical people to stay technical, rather than having to go into management in order to advance.  It's not nearly common enough, and a lot of places lose good people because of it.

flexiblefine's picture

In the recent succession planning podcasts (part 1, part 2), the guys are pretty clear that you should have your eye on where your directs might go, rather than who could be your successor.

I am in the advertising department at my job, but my experience and interests would probably make me a bad choice to replace my boss. He has lots of visual design experience, and I'm a database geek. If he were doing succession planning for me, he would be looking for roles where I could be an asset, no matter where those roles might be. That might mean that he would have nobody in his plan who would be lined up to take over his position if he got hit by a truck.

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STEVENM's picture

Is there a reason you're attached to having a direct successor in mind?  Aside from it being nice to have all loose ends tied up of course.  Think about it this way... you develop people down the paths they want, they branch out.  If your peers are similar they're doing the same and they may well have that successor.  You can only work with what you have. 

If they have no interest they have no interest.  Look to non-immediate successors (those younger folks) and see if any of them want to start going down that path, because even if they're on an individual contributor path in the short term having the foresight to develop them early can't be a bad thing.  But you can't make someone interested.  And trying sounds... messy.  Behavior you can change.  Interests is outside of the MT style by a mile.

Also, keep it in mind for future hiring.  You've spotted a gap on the succession side of things.  Now you can potentially address it by including it in hiring criteria next time that comes around.