TONL Monthly
May 2020

Succession Development

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By AJ Stephens, DNP, MBA/HCA, RN, NE-BC, Director of Critical Care, HCA North Texas

Succession planning is a buzz word we have all heard about since that semester of leadership in nursing school. In simple terms, it is a means of identifying critical positions and the individuals who will fill the vacancies for those positions (Rothwell, 2016). However, a name in a box alone is not succession planning. The planning step of the process requires a great deal of attention and focus on the development of team members to prepare them to assume positions of either greater or different responsibility within your organization.

Why do we need a plan?
When a member of your organization’s team terminates their relationship, they take with them team and organizational knowledge and start a domino effect of danger to those who remain. Extended vacancies will burn out remaining team members which leads to disengagement and burnout and ultimately negatively impacts care for the patient. As new team members are hired, they are brought into what can become a constant ‘state of emergency’ as others scramble to fill in the gaps from the individual who left.

A lack of succession planning within a team or organization means the strategy is to hire external talent. When we rely upon external talent to fill vacancies, we are expecting our competitors to do a better job of developing their people than we are willing to commit to for our own. Seeing no opportunity for growth, top talent leaves the team and the organization is left managing the consequences of turnover.

Succession Development
Part of developing a true plan for succession means we look beyond positions and identify roles a vacancy will create. We are all familiar with positions on our team: Registered Nurse, Patient Care Assistant, Unit Secretary, Nurse Supervisor, etc. Within these positions, we have to think of the roles someone in the position holds: Preceptors, Schedulers, Committee Members, Shared Governance Members, Super Users, Educators, Project Leaders, Morale Boosters and more. As leaders, we have a responsibility to tap into our talent and develop individuals for roles and responsibilities even if it is outside of our own area of responsibility.

Many of us are familiar with employee rounding but what we do with that incredibly valuable time has tremendous impact on the strength of our teams and the ability to impact change and make a positive difference. Succession development should be part of every formal rounding conversation and include the following questions:
1. What does my team need?
2. What does the team member want in their path?
3. Does the desired role or responsibility align with the team member’s strengths?
4. How soon does my team need the talent within the role?
5. Is the team member ready for the addition or change in responsibility?
6. What actions can leadership take to increase readiness?

Rounding on team members should occur at least quarterly and each session should have focus on goals set forth by the team member in conjunction with their leadership. Is the team member trying to advance within the organization, within the team or taken on varying responsibilities? What is their plan to achieve their goal and how can leadership support them? Progress towards goals should be reviewed at each quarterly meeting and an accountability factor should be in place to show the leader’s commitment to the employee’s development. Accountability relieves the leader of owning the team member’s active involvement in their own development.

One of the four quarterly rounding sessions should be an annual evaluation of performance in which developmental goals are discussed and gaps to achievement reviewed. Throughout the year, discuss what performance ratings are available and what performance looks like for a particular rating. Identify goals for performance and discuss gaps in reaching particular ratings and what opportunities are available for development. If these conversations occur, consistently, throughout the year, information contained within the formal evaluation will be a continuation of the conversations, not a surprise.

Leadership Impact
Employees who are clear on what is expected of them and who know they are being evaluated on a consistent set of criteria have been proven to be more productive and committed to the organization (Timms, 2016). Leaders have an obligation to their team members to set expectations, remain consistent, provide regular feedback and encourage as well as support development. Research conducted by the Gallup organization suggests that nearly nine out of ten employees who report having someone at work who encourages their development are classified as engaged (Timms, 2016). Setting expectations for performance, focusing on development as a continual process and regularly reviewing progress and gaps can result in higher engagement of team members and positive outcomes for the team as a whole. Who are you developing today?

Rothwell, W. J. (2016). Effective succession planning: Ensuring leadership continuity and building talent from within. New York, NY: American Management Association - AMACOM.
Timms, M. (2016). Succession planning that works: The critical path of leadership development. Victoria, BC: Friesen Press.


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