So you are sailing along in your role successfully, projects are passing by with flying colors, and the team has its ups and downs, but overall doing great. Then your manager, on a regular 1-1, asks what about your succession plan? What? Is this a risk to your position? And why even bother?
First, it is a way to handle risks related to… you. Even when life and a job is going on extremely well, something substantial can still happen. How many times did you have a happy team member switch jobs just because they wanted to try something different? Or worse, they got sick at the worst possible moment. And a chance, even if temporary, to replace you with someone who has shown interest and received at least some training on the role can be life-saving in many circumstances.
So, in the same way you are trying to avoid a bus factor of 1 in your team, your manager is also trying to reduce risks related to their direct reports.
It’s also a great chance to kick off continuous development for those folks in the team who are considering a management career path. I’m emphasizing “considering” deliberately here: engineers often have the wrong impression of management roles and get bored in the 2nd chapter of the first management book. The same one you spent an all-nighter to finish because it was so good. I do not consider such cases a failure. The opposite - it’s a success identifying what role is not an excellent fit for someone. A lot of time and stress were saved, and unhappiness was avoided.
Developing your folks motivates them and challenges you simultaneously to find the best way to transfer knowledge. Even if the chance for promotion doesn’t appear fast, they will still be better engineers due to a better understanding your role.
A solid succession plan is often an enablement plan for yourself. It allows you to use those once-in-a-lifetime, time-sensitive chances to get promoted, move to a project you’ve been dreaming about, or accept some interesting challenge outside of your team. In incredibly successful teams, the upper management is not too eager to pry successful managers off, as this step eventually can be considered counterproductive long term. Now it’s a very different game if you have good and prepared leadership talent to take your place. The trust everyone had in you will reflect on your successor because you trained them.
Protip: make sure you mention about those candidates and their development to people working with your team, “as a matter of fact.” This is called priming.
Few things scream about seniority more than proactively developing a succession plan for yourself and keeping it up-to-date based on developments around you. It’s a win-win for everyone. So what you’re waiting for?
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