Succession Planning: Should You Train, Manage, Coach, or Mentor?

Most of us believe we know training when we see it, and many of us think we know what coaching is. But all too frequently succession planning is poorly done, if at all, because of using the wrong process at the wrong time.

When is training appropriate and who should provide it? Often your best performer is the wrong person to train.

When is managing appropriate? Is succession planning part of managing? Yes, it is.

Is being assigned a coach a bad sign? Not at all. Coaching is used when you and your manager agree to work with an outside expert in developing specific interpersonal skills. The coach should be an experienced professional and the three of you should work together as a team.

Mentoring is different from these first three, and is typically the least specific and the most life-changing. It involves the care and insights of a leader within the organization, on some occasion an external resource, that you trust. The two of you reach an agreement that you can talk freely and privately about situations she observes in you, or about which you request insights from her. This is typically opportunistic more than a regular schedule, and the scope is wide open rather than aligned to specific goals.

Which of these is most appropriate in succession planning depends on the role or skillset being planned. Succession planning for shop floor operator positions are typically training of different or advanced skills to ensure flexibility for scheduling and for the future. It is typically the manager who identifies where succession planning is needed and who will be involved in executing it. Managers are responsible for developing each member of the team, and the team as a whole.

Coaches are part of a 3-person team — the employee, the boss, and the coach — to work to improve identified interpersonal skills of the employee. There is a defined scope and agreed measures of improvement.

Mentors can often be the difference between stagnation and realizing and reaching our potential.

Succession planning can only be successful for all involved if it reflects the goals of individuals, teams, and the organization, and it uses the right tools in the right ways at the right times with qualified resources.

As a person not satisfied to spend the rest of your career doing what you do right now, become familiar with each of these and learn to recognize when each is appropriate — for you, for your team, and in some cases, for others.

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