Any time you can get outside, be in the sun and enjoy the fresh air, is a good thing. One of the ways many people enjoy being outside is in a garden. Flower garden or vegetable garden, it doesn’t matter which one. You plant your seeds or seedlings, you water them, cultivate them, watch them grow. They need sunlight, they need to be weeded, they need special care from predators. If you don’t need them, the aggressive, unwanted plants (weeds) will overtake them. If you don’t make sure they have proper amounts of water and light, they will shrivel up and die. But when you provide the proper mixture of care, they will grow up strong.
Then what? Your plants are strong and perhaps you decide that the plant appears to have the potential to produce big crops, big flowers, or both. So you add some fertilizer to the mix. Some plants will explode with growth and become mature plants. Some will withdraw from thriving and instead they will go into wilt and begin to die, never to reach the potential you saw in them. But your survivor will go on to produce healthy crops, which will give you seeds, and you can, in turn, sow those seeds and the process continues.
Like gardening, succession planning is a critical path within a leader’s career. Growing leaders behind you ensure that your organization will continue after you’ve moved on. The newly appointed leaders will have more energy to expand and change because you have provided them with a strong base of fertile soil. You see, planting a garden is not much different from succession planning. You hire a new employee and plant the seedling… oh, I mean trainee, into the work environment. You provide them with on-the-job training, you may appoint a mentor to help them maneuver through the trials of a new job. As trainees and probationary employees, you make sure they have the proper amounts of training, experience, and exposure to others in the public safety profession so that they can develop strong. You try your hardest to protect them from predators, those who will steal their dreams and aspirations.
Then what? Your trainee is now on their own and what do you know, this person has potential! Focused succession planning includes developing tools for all the staff to help make it better, sharing ideas of things that would be fun to implement or purchase, all of the things that provide a supervisor, a vision of what the person could be like with a promotion. Sometimes it also includes clipping back your own wings and allowing the future leaders to soar. Just like a growing plant cannot reach its potential with something covering it, future leaders must have room to expand.
When you take that person and provide them with training tools, life tools, broaden-your-vision scope tools, leadership tools, you are giving them knowledge and room. As you encourage your new leaders, you are also surrounding yourself with people headed in the same direction as you, which as a leader is one of the best possible things you can do. Don’t miss this however, headed in the same direction does not mean thinking exactly the same and never questioning your decision. It means with everyone growing toward the sun (using a plant metaphor, instead of growing crooked) your direction will be enhanced by others. You see, in the world of plants, they each help the other grow, blossom, produce. In the world of business, you need others to help you grow, blossom and produce. Mentoring someone for the purpose of succession planning requires you to be alert to potential and work on expanding the person’s abilities, not blowing them up.
When you have achieved a potential succession planning process you may have to count it as a loss. Or, how do you move forward when the person, who has so much potential, leaves and goes to another agency? Not all people will bloom where they’re planted, some will bloom in another location. What a great moment! They are using the skills you taught them and going to make another agency better. You just lost someone who you have put a lot of work into. What do you do? You do some self-talk about how great it is that someone who worked for you is working at an elevated level in another job, you congratulate them, you reflect on the positive attributes they brought to the agency before they left, and then you move on.
Not all of the identified seedlings are going to make it. Some may lose their way, others may advance away, others will stay. The stronger your organization is with people within the succession planning process, the more seeds that can be planted, the more people you will reach with positive growth. It is a true win-win scenario!