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Succession planning

In general, the turnover rate in personnel in American industry has been increasing for decades. People do not expect to start at a company, put in their 20 years, and retire. Even paper mills where I have worked, who have notoriously low turnover rates are seeing the average time in service drop lower and lower.

This is not all bad.

Change happens. These days, personnel changes happen faster and faster. The good thing about this is that you get fresh ideas for old problems. But there is an inevitable gap in performance when someone leaves and someone else takes over a role or position. This is true from the best case, where a successor is chosen while the current employee trains and hands off duties to the new person. This is an elegant succession. Sadly, it is rare.

The more common succession is when someone takes another position in another company and in two to four weeks, with no successor in place, they leave the position unfilled. The search for a candidate begins, time passes, a hire is made, and that person is dropped in a position with many undefined roles and goals. Then they scroll through untold onboarding documents, training files, safety videos, and staff meeting and greetings. Then they are plunked into the position to begin reinventing many wheels.

Time passes. The new employee learns their rolls and duties. They become competent. They mesh well with the team. They become confident. Then they find a new job elsewhere, and give notice.

The cycle repeats. If management believes that it will be different this time without changing anything in the cycle, they are - by Einstein’s definition – crazy. One of the things that can be done differently is to have the new hire begin documenting their path to competence. Basically making a training manual for themselves. And their managers and supervisors need to periodically ask for this documentation and review it with them.

This documentation can be called many things: training manual, performance review, or work log. What it should become is a succession plan. The goal of this documentation should be to accumulate knowledge to lessen the gap in performance after personnel changes. It can also serve as part of a performance review. It can also be a reference for the employee’s own work, especially for infrequent tasks, or tasks that can be delegated. But to get this documentation, a manager has to request it and review it with the employee.

It is said that jobs that get written procedures get done well. And jobs that are known to be audited get done even better. If management wants to break the cycle of the turnover performance gap one good way is to ask for this information on a regular time basis. Four times a year is not too often. I know this takes time from the other supervisor/manager duties. But consider this: Job turnover is a certainty. Whether through resignation, promotion, retirement, illness, or death, it is a 100% guarantee. So spend the time to plan for it. In the process of doing so, it may even slow down the turnover rate.

Just my two cents.




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