Let’s say a position for a team lead or manager has opened up. You really want that promotion, but because you’re considered indispensable in your current role, your boss won’t let you apply for it.
While being overlooked for a plum assignment and/or promotion may not seem fair, what you might not realize is that you actually have more control over these situations than you might think. To prepare yourself for the next time a big promotion comes around, here’s how to proactively identify and train your successor—and get buy-in from your boss.
Identify Potential Successors
Spend time getting to know your teammates, the quality of their work, and their desire to advance in order to identify one or two potential successors.
Develop an ideal candidate profile, suggested Jonathan Goldhill, a business coach for next-generation leaders. To avoid the halo effect, which refers to the tendency to move people up because they are good at their current job rather than their ability to succeed at the next level, ask yourself what attributes, knowledge and values your successor needs to possess.
“Don’t be generically helpful to everyone, find colleagues who are worth developing,” advised Katie Wilde, VP of Engineering for Ambassador Labs.
Share your knowledge strategically and purposefully to see if your potential successor grabs hold of the opportunity, Wilde added. For instance, when you give them direction, training or tips, do they respond in a positive manner? If you ask them to do something, do they follow through? Review their code for quality and have regular chats to get to know them better (especially via Zoom, Teams, or Slack if you’re working remotely). After all, who you recommend to take your spot ultimately reflects on your leadership skills.
Being viewed as the only rockstar on the team is not to your benefit, noted Karin Hurt, CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders and co-author of “Courageous Cultures.” You want to be valuable but not irreplaceable. Find the right candidates to take over for you and become a peer mentor to them.
Float Your Idea
Your succession plan is not going to get very far without your current and potentially your future bosses’ approval and support. But conversations around succession planning can be tricky.
Don’t wait until an opportunity arises to have the conversation, but “sow the seeds early,” Wilde advised.
The next time you’re updating your boss on your activities or the status of a project, introduce the subject of “Here’s how I’m developing the people around me” into the conversation. In other words, the context of your message should be that you are growing others so you can take on more high-profile projects. Highlight those team members potentially ready to step up if you’re promoted.
If your boss agrees that you are ready to take on more, or seems generally supportive of your long-term career goals, they may be relieved to know there is someone who can fill your shoes in the event of a promotion. If they don’t agree with your choice for a successor, explore their concerns and be ready to explain your rationale. Show how you can help your successor close knowledge gaps and succeed.
Be sure to take responsibility for creating a formal training plan, providing mentorship, evaluations and monthly feedback to alleviate your boss’s concerns and ensure that your successor is ready to step up when promotion time comes, Goldhill advised. Taking the lead may also help you get your manager’s blessing to spend some of your time on training and coaching.
Garnering broad support for the “next in line,” including sponsors or advocates who will bring your name up in discussions that take place behind closed doors, can ensure that you will have access to opportunities.
Another tricky part of the process is evaluating your named successor’s interest in taking your place without making promises or guarantees. To help them avoid overconfidence and letdown, have a general conversation to assess their ambition and goals for the future. If they have the desire and aptitude to succeed at the next level, then delegate appropriate tasks, provide training and guidance, and monitor progress.
If your department always seems short-staffed or constantly loses high-potential employees who are not satisfied with their growth and development, suggesting a cross-departmental training program could prove part of the solution. Such a program could allow remote technologists to try out different roles and responsibilities or receive guidance from a seasoned pro. It’s a great way to boost employee morale without setting unrealistic expectations.
Whether you want to ascend into management, transition to a new specialty or look for roles outside your group that allow you to learn and practice new skills, you always need to have a plan for what comes next. Training your team in the right ways can ease your promotion to new roles with greater responsibility.