Preparing For the Future – Building a Support Succession Plan for Tech Support

Running a technical support business is all about taking action and getting things done. It seems like we have very little time to plan and when we do we are focused on support budgets and technology acquisitions. But, there is one future plan that will pay off big if we do it right; succession planning. Simply put, this is the art and science of grooming managers to become top executives and allowing them to become an internal pool of potential executive talent. Succession planning does not just happen, it is hard work but the benefits will be seen the first time you lose a VP and don’t have to go outside the company to find a replacement. What we are talking about here is developing a formal plan that would allow your brightest managers to gain the skills necessary to become VP’s or more.
Of course, formal training in management is the first step and I highly recommend that all of your management team attend the SSPA/Wharton Executive program. But, there are actually several more things that you can do to add some interesting training situations to the overall plan. As an example, here are some ways that you can determine which of your top candidates are really ready to move up to the executive ranks.
Keys to succession planning
1. Identify the potential candidates – Start by reviewing the SSPA Top Talent Study to determine what drives your best people and the skill sets that they maintain. It is essential that you start the succession planning process by selecting the best possible people in your organization. I would bet that if I asked you to identify your top talent that it would not be hard to identify the few people that quickly come to mind. The SSPA study that I mention above is a very detailed work that helps you understand exactly what motivates and differentiates those top people from the rest of the pack.

2. Establish an executive “mentor” for the selected people that have potential to become execs. The mentors should meet on a regular basis and discuss what execs do and how they act. Although this may seem like a very time consuming thing to ask executives to do most of them will readily accept the challenge of mentoring a bright shinning star in the company. The mentoring approach can be as formal as you want to make it, such as, formal project work under the mentor’s watchful eye, to going out for a beer after work a couple of times a month. The object here is to match potential executives with existing executives so that they can share the art of top-level management and evaluate the potential of the prospective candidate. I think back to my own career when I had an executive mentor and we developed a lifelong relation ship that is still in place today. Every time something good happened to me in my career, Ed was one of the first people I called and he was always proud of me.

3. Build a “Leadership agreement” between the individuals and the execs that identifies what the company will do to further the development of selected individuals and what the individual will do to enhance their own skill set. For example, going to night school to take business classes would be a sign of an individual’s drive for advancement. This agreement should not be one sided where the company promises to do formal career building for the candidate, but rather, a mutual agreement that both parties will spend the extra efforts to make this happen. The company supplies the opportunities but the individuals have to commit to spending the extra effort and time required to succeed.

4. Get industry exposure – Send selected people out to industry conferences with the specific task of finding new ideas that could benefit the company and then give them the responsibility to create a task force and implement one of them. There are plenty of industry conferences out there and both SSPA and AFSMI work hard at developing the best possible content for their conferences. Getting outside the walls of your company can be a great awakening as you learn how others get things done, focus on future plans, and have established a network of peers with different perspectives. As part of our succession planning process it is essential that our candidates don’t just show up at a conference to attend the social events. We must put them to work while they are out of the office and that means that they will need to create a trip report about everything that learned at the event. Reviewing their observations and recommendations provides us insight into how they think and helps to determine if they can really think like an executive.

5. Benchmark against others – Set up site visits with other SSPA member companies and have potential execs tour the facilities looking for similarities and differences in the two organizations. If you really want to sharpen your skills in the technical services field then get out there and benchmark against your peers. This technique is a great place to test the aptitude of our potential executives because they have to know what questions to ask and then must be able to articulate their comparisons back to their team. Benchmarking visits require pre-planning so that the time spent is maximized and as much information is collected as possible in a short period of time. If you are not sure who your peers are then simply drop me an email and I will start the process of hooking you up.

6. Exposure to other parts of the company – Selected individuals need to get exposed to all parts of an organization by either working on projects in that area or by spending time as a functional manager there. This “management rotation” provides an expanded knowledge of how the entire company functions. This rotation can be done through project management roles that interface outside of your department, such as, working with R/D, sales, or QA on projects that directly affect the effectiveness of technology services. What this does for the individual is enhances their multi-tasking skills, their communications skills, and their ability to get things done on time. Once more we are trying to expose executive type thinking into our prospects and what better way to do that than to hold them accountable for project completion with other departments.

The key to succession planning is that there must be commitment from both the executive management team and the selected individuals that have been identified. A typical succession plan could take a few years to fully implement but the extra effort will be worth it as we develop managers into executives and prepare for the future.

What are your thoughts about succession planning and preparing future service leaders for the job ahead?

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4 Responses to “Preparing For the Future – Building a Support Succession Plan for Tech Support”

  1. Eric Harrington Says:

    Bill,

    Based on my experience – this is very important but keep in mind, it is placing a bet – and in some cases a big bet that does not pay off.

    I have been though this process before as the executive that moved into a different role based on a company acquisition and had to fill my position quickly. Lucky for me, I treated my employees with openness – so for the most part, they knew what I knew unless the content was classified.

    We came out on the positive side of this speedy process and I was able to put the right person in place. Actually, I had a few people in mind that were capable.

    One thing that is not mentioned here is how to handle the resentment among the employees that felt they should have been chosen or feel they are more qualified than the one selected. We did have a slight issue there and ended up having to fix it with money but it is a reality none the less. Tons of HR issues to keep in mind with all of this – and it is not all positive and 1-2-3 either.

    I am not so sure about saying there must be a commitment between executive mgt and the individuals because you are lucky these days to keep an employee for any long length of time. People do not hang out in the same gig as long as they used to. Pretty rare to find the younger folks staying with a company more than 5 years these days.

    Also, the carrot on the stick (“you will be running the show one day”) is less attractive these days. You can make all of the commitments you want with an employee but if they are approached to fill that higher position with more money long before you can provide it to them, they are going to leave and take the other job. Then all that time, money, etc that was spent is gone. Like I said, it is a bet – and people are going to do what is best for them.

    I think the plan needs to be defined and the super stars identified. All you can do is try to keep the individual(s) next in line with the company until the time comes to promote – but there is no black and white to this at all.

    I had an employee that should have taken my spot, and he knew the job as well as I did but he did not see a change coming anytime soon enough to please his personal goals. So he left, got the position he was after and more money.

    Companies should always be ready and prepared on some level for super stars to leave with a 2-3 week notice. That goes for the executive side as well. “What do we do if our CTO comes in tomorrow and gives notice?”. Happens all the time so just be ready to move on the fly.

    The best advice I can give is to know who your super stars are (that means getting to know your people), expose them to as much as you can, nurture the ones that show desire and interest – and should the time come and they are interested (or still at the company), they know the job and can jump right in.

  2. develop psychic Says:

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  3. mind power Says:

    mind power…

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  4. Bill Rose Says:

    Eric, Thanks for the great comments. You nailed some key points here. In my career “people management” has always been the most interesting and frustrating part of being a manager. Bill

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