IT Leaders Deal With The Three D’s: Death, Divorce, and Disease

by drjim on November 12, 2009

You Never Know Who's Going To Come Knocking For Your Team...

You Never Know Who’s Going To Come Knocking For Your Team…

Bad things happen. Sometimes they are not all that bad – key employees leaving for example is bad, but not really all that “bad”. However, sometimes things really are bad: staff die or become seriously ill for long periods of time. What’s your plan for when this happens? What’s that, you don’t have a plan? You think that it’s the role of HR to take care of personal issues like this? Guess again…

Hey Pollyanna, Why Don’t We Ever Plan For The Worst?

You would think that since we work in an industry that has spent so much time trying to prepare our IT systems to deal with bad things, that at least some of this careful planning would have spilled over into how we manage our IT teams. You would be wrong. Just like little kids, IT Leaders for some unknown reason can’t imagine themselves or anyone on their staff dying (death), leaving (divorce), or getting seriously ill for a long time (disease).

One of the reasons that we never seem to get around to doing any proper succession planning is that we always seem to be too focused on the here and now. In order to plan for a future that has a different cast of characters in the IT department, IT Leaders need to sit down and do some serious thinking.

Why Bother Planning – Won’t Things Just Change Anyway?

Sure we all know that just like motherhood and apple pie IT team succession planning is a good thing to do. But do we really know ?WHY? it is a good thing to do? It turns out that there are two main reasons.

The first is the same problem that the U.S. faces with its 4-year presidential terms – continuity of leadership. Right now in your IT department you have plans that are asking for funding, you have plans that are underway, and hopefully you have plans that are just about to wrap up. If the firm loses key member(s) of the team or even you, then would these plans still complete successfully? Even if they did, would anyone have a clear idea of what to do next?

The second reason has to do with intellectual property. I speak from experience when I say that much of the value in any IT department is not in its written procedures or the code that lives on its servers, but rather what is in its employees heads. If you lose one of these staff members, the IP loss could be staggering if you don’t have a working succession plan in place.

What’s The Right Way To Do IT Department Succession Planning?

Gary Perman is an IT consultant who has spent a great deal of time creating IT succession plans. From his vantage point all IT succession plans have two key characteristics:

  • Simplicity: A succession plan has got to be easy to use. When an individual is no longer available to do a job, then it has to be clear who has been trained to step into their spot. Oh, and it also has to be clear who will take things over for that person.
  • More Than A Replacement Plan: A succession plan can’t just be a list of name. Instead it has to be a complete development plan that shows who is where in the skill development path that it is going to take in order to be ready to step into a particular role.

What All Of This Means To You

As an IT leader you’ve got to anticipate changes that will happen to your teams, including things happening to you. It is your responsibility to make sure that there is a plan in place to deal with the loss of any of your staff.

Since not everyone can do everyone else’s job, this means that you’ve got to create a succession plan and then you’ve got to publicize it. This is not a place for secrets. Once you publicize it, you’ve got to make it everyone’s responsibility to ensure that they are ready to step into the role(s) that they are slotted for.

You can help make this happen. Using techniques such as cross-training and job rotation will ensure that your staff will have an opportunity to develop all of the skills that they are going to need. Bad things happen, this doesn’t mean that you can’t be ready for them when they come.

Do you think that your department’s succession plan should be public knowledge?
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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Stop. I know that your normal day-to-day is crazy, you are overworked, underpaid and nobody really appreciates all of the fine things that you do. I get all that. My question for you is do you have any idea why you are doing what you are doing? What are you really working towards? If you don’t know, then perhaps now is the time to find out…

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