I spoke to a group of maintenance professionals last week in the Caribbean (virtually), and the topic of succession came up. The group consisted of men and women at various points in their careers, but there was a strong contingent of senior leaders and a few newbies.
It turned into a wide-ranging discussion about tips and tricks this group used to prepare the next generation. There was the usual discussion of the frustration of preparing someone to have them leave. This turnover is undoubtedly frustrating. But as Henry Ford supposed to have said, “If you think training is expensive, try ignorance!”
The advice was all over the landscape, but there were some broad themes.
Identify future leaders well in advance of the need for them. The best time to think about this is years before you need someone. Any program should take place over a good deal of time and involve many different facets of the job. It does not have to be formal, but it does have to be thoughtful and consistent.
Training is the first technique that usually comes to mind. Be sure that the potential candidate has training opportunities available over the years of their development. Training includes formal classes, informal shadowing assignments, books, videos, and any new modalities (VR, AR, etc.). Another training modality is allowing them to attend trade shows. Having them take the short classes, see vendors, rub elbows with others in the field is helpful to build a future leader. Finally, one of the most valuable training uses is to have the candidate be the teacher for various training.
Suppose you are putting in a new system or upgrading an old one. In that case, these people are naturals for the file building activities, auditing master files, and participate in discussions on codes and configuration. Working closely with the vendors and getting initial training in the system can pay dividends for years to come.
Have them make up checklists for everyday tasks. Checklists are great memories! Anytime there is a complex activity with some grave consequences of failure, checklists are a great tool. They are an especially great tool for upcoming leaders to use.
Use their ideas. There is no better way to create ownership than to use people’s ideas when solving problems, setting up new procedures, or changing a process. People thrive when they feel like they are contributing.
When there is significant work to do, recruit the candidate to be the one to take pictures, ask questions and accompany vendors through the facility. Instruct them to ask all the questions they can think of. Tell them to use the opportunity to learn things.
One of the most valuable assignments is to put the candidate in rotation for relief supervisor, relief planner, or stores person. Anywhere they can see another part of the operation and practice getting them to deal with people.
We all have certainly learned lessons the hard way. While some of the lessons will have to be learned over by each generation, we can help by organizing the lessons learned. So, one good suggestion was the development of an accessible history of lessons learned.
Let them take on small projects from start to finish. This assignment builds confidence, experience, and motivation. Whole projects offer many lessons that will be useful to future leaders.
Have them participate in presentations to management. When pitching management on a new idea or program, always give these folks an appropriate part in the production. This experience not only acquaints the candidate with management but also gives them some visibility to management. Another vital part of this is that they should be involved in the planning for the presentation. Let them hear the tradeoffs, challenges, and problems to overcome.
Provide them with opportunities to participate with multidisciplinary teams. The best ongoing group is the defect elimination group. Early and long experience with getting rid of defects provides an excellent basis for understanding the process. Other teams can be for root causes analysis, focus groups for HR, design groups, quality, or process improvement activities.
Good luck, stay safe