Succession Planning

Succession Planning

Posted on Wednesday October 20, 2010 at 09:38AM

Please note: I’m coming to the end of my topics for this series on Human Resources. If you have any suggestions of what you’d like to see for my next series, or even just individual topics, please let me know.

Succession Planning

Succession Planning: planning for the coming of one person or thing after another; can also be seen as planning for success.

Three years ago the U.S. Department of Justice Library set up a committee to formulate a succession plan. Why? They looked at their staff and realized that within four years, 44% of them would be eligible for retirement. While it may seem that comparing the small libraries in the Northern Lights Library System to the U.S. Department of Justice is absurd, like comparing apples to hippopotami, your library may actually be in a similar situation. If only one staff member retires, you could be losing between 20% and 50% of your knowledge base. The same is true for library boards. Are you prepared?

One of the fears associated with beginning to write a succession plan is that the plan is being put into place in order to fire someone. This is not always the case. Consider this: there have been days when due to conferences, illness, site visits and meetings that I’m the only one in the office to handle HelpDesk tickets about VDX, computers or Polaris. Of course my initial reaction is to want to freak out and huddle under my desk in the fetal position. But at headquarters we have been working on finding out what others in the office are doing, and learning how to do it all too. So if anyone is gone for an extended period of time, there will always be someone here to take over. And this is a good thing – for you and for us. It means that we can all take vacations and things will still run smoothly and not pile up in our absence. :-)

Another great thing about a succession plan is that it can be related to your new plan of service. Say your community has identified genealogy as a need for your library. Do you have the staff to be able to implement changes in this direction? What about technology? What competencies will you and your staff need to develop in order for your library to meet the needs of your community? It may involve hiring new staff, but it may also be finding ways of training current staff to meet those needs. Succession planning looks at these concerns.

So how do you write a succession plan? It starts with assessing your current staff and your changing needs. It involves trying to envision where your community and your library will be in the next five or ten years. Then you look at how to fill in the gaps. If a key staff member is leaving soon, tap into their knowledge; have them mentor a younger staff member so that their knowledge will not be lost. Have staff cross-trained, so that things don’t get put off due to vacations or illness. Communication is key. Staff should know why succession planning is being done and how it will affect them. Have them participate in the planning process as much as possible.

While a succession plan is not required by law, it is helpful. It can fall under policies for the orientation and continuing education of board and staff and/or personnel (which are required). Having a succession plan brings peace of mind and a smooth transition when changes come.

Reading and Resources:

Cantor, Paul, 2005. Succession Planning: Often Requested, Rarely Delivered. Ivey
Management Service. Retrieved Oct 12, 2010 from

Department of Justice Libraries, May 2008. Library Succession Plan: Findings and
Recommendations. Retrieved October 12, 2010 from:

Mc Mahan, Jennifer and Masias, Michele, Oct 2009. Learning and Training. Information
Outlook. Retrieved October 13, 2010 from:

Rothwell, William J., 1951. Effective Succession Planning: Ensuring Leadership Continuity and
Building Talent from Within. New York: American management Association.

Rothwell, William J., Jackson, Robert D., Knight, Shaun C., and Lindholm, John E.,
2005. Career Planning and Succession Management: Developing your Organization's Talent--for Today and Tomorrow. Westport, Ct.: Praeger Publishers.

Singer, Paula M. 2010. Succession Planning in the Library: Developing Leaders, Managing
Change. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association.


Author: Northern Lights Library System


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