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How to train your successor


You’ve created a succession plan. You’ve identified your key personnel. Now you’re looking ahead to your own retirement or a promotion. Do you know how to train your successor?

What do they need to know? How long will it take to get them ready? And how can you set them up for success after you’ve moved on?

When should you name your successor?

The exact timing depends on how much time there is before the transition. In a perfect world, you would have six months to a year to train your next-in-line before you move on to a new role or retire. The reality, though, is that you may have just a few weeks before you start your new job.

Whenever you name your successor, it’s time to put a training plan into practice.

Create a succession training plan

When working with your successor to set up a training plan, you should include:

1. Goals for training

The exact goals will vary by how much time you have and what your successor needs to learn.

For example, you and your successor might aim for them attending three leadership meetings with you in the next month. Or you might set a goal to teach them how to use an application they’ll need to manage the team within the next two weeks.

2. Regular one-on-one meetings

Time for coaching and discussion is a critical step in how to train your successor. Set up a 60- to 90-minute one-on-one meeting each month, or each week if you’re transitioning soon.

Use that time to go over standard operating procedures, best practices, your institutional knowledge and skills reinforcement.

3. Attendance in project meetings and calls

Start integrating your successor into your ongoing projects and meeting routines now. They can observe in the beginning, get to know the people involved and learn any new terms they’ll need.

4. Full-time training and shadowing time

As your training progresses, plan to slowly transition your successor out of their current position. Keep in mind that as they take on more of your current responsibilities under your guidance, you’ll need to also transition their workload to other people on the team.

Polish your successor’s skills

Ideally, you’ve already been helping your successor and their teammates develop stronger skills. Now’s the time to determine which of your successor’s skills are ready for their new role and which need strengthening.

1. Relationship skills

Communication and emotional intelligence skills take top priority because relating to people and communicating clearly are the keys to leadership, project management and ongoing success.

When your next-in-line can relate to person and communicate with them appropriately, other responsibilities fall into place more easily.

2. Project management skills

Knowing how to initiate, plan, execute, monitor and close out projects is an important skill set for anyone stepping into a new job with more responsibilities, even if it’s not a project manager role.

3. Time management skills

Your successor will have a lot to do as they transition into their new role. Good time-management skills will help them focus on their core responsibilities without feeling overwhelmed. Encourage your replacement to adopt time management best practices for leaders.

4. Leadership skills

Look at your successor’s skill and experience with negotiation, conflict resolution, team building and coaching. Offer them feedback and resources they can use to build up areas where they need to improve or don’t feel confident.

Share the information your successor needs to know

While you’re strengthening your successor’s skills, you’ll also need to pass along information essential for success in their new job.

1. Policies and procedures

The person who’ll be taking the wheel from you needs to know the rules of the road. Go over any policies and procedures that are specific to the job they’ll be taking on.

For example, if they’ll be managing union employees, make sure they have a copy of the collective bargaining agreement that applies to those workers.

This is also a good time for a refresher on your organization’s general policies and procedures.

2. Best practices

Discuss the currently accepted best practices for handling tasks the new role requires.

It’s also a good idea to let your successor know where to keep up with the latest thinking on the work they’ll be doing. That might be a company group chat, an industry blog or a trade publication, or attending relevant conferences and meeting with local organizations.

3. Potential challenges

Overcoming adversity is part of success, and it’s easier when you’re prepared. Be clear with your successor about the upsides and the potential challenges of their new role.

Talk through a few scenarios to get them thinking about how they might handle it if something unexpected happens during a project. What alternate approaches might work? Who can they seek out for advice?

4. A contact list

Give your next-in-line a list of people they can reach out to if they need guidance.

For example, let them know who to contact if they have trouble with a project and who they can call if there are issues with new hires under their supervision.

Make sure the people on your list know you’re sharing their names with your successor. That way they’ll be prepared when the call or email comes.

5. A resource guide

As you train your successor, it’s a good idea to build a resource guide. This can include:

  • Policies
  • Best practices
  • Contacts
  • Contingency plans
  • Skill-building information that they can refer to when they need a refresher

Be descriptive, not prescriptive

Unless there are procedures that must be strictly followed, don’t insist that your successor do every task or handle every situation exactly the way you’ve done it.

Often, when people have held a position for a while, they develop habits that work for them but may not be the best (or only) way to get things done.

Presenting your approach as the only viable approach can prevent your successor from finding their own ways to accomplish tasks. It can also undermine their confidence in their own critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Instead, describe what needs to be done and review the accepted best practices for your role. That lets them approach their new responsibilities in the way that feels most comfortable to them. Their fresh perspective may help them find ways to do the work more efficiently.

For example, a manager who’s been leading weekly progress phone conferences with remote team members may be most comfortable with that method. But the successor may prefer videoconferences because they’re more effective for sharing visual data.

It’s important to let the successor know that weekly meetings are important. How they arrange those meetings can be up to them.

Keep the lines of communication open

Your successor will feel more confident knowing that you’re available to answer questions for a time after they step into their new role.

If possible, let your successor know that you’re available if they need extra guidance for a month to 90 days after the transition. That extra availability can help them navigate any unforeseen situations and set them up for a successful succession.

Want more tips on succession management – from building your succession plan to how to train your successor? Download our free magazine: The Insperity guide to succession planning.