If your lab has an effective leader heading a successful program, the last thing you want to think about is losing that person to retirement or poaching. But it's among the first things you should think about if you want to ensure long-term success.
Fortune 500 companies know that the health of their organizations (and their stock price) can depend on identifying their next CEO while the current one is still at peak performance, and preparing that person to step in, whether the transition is planned long in advance or occurs unexpectedly. A clinical lab's mission and priorities are not those of a large corporation, but its leadership planning needs aren't that different.
"Succession planning in laboratory medicine is often overlooked," says Michael Bennett, Chief of Laboratory Medicine at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "We are generally an aging workforce and there can be a huge gap before there's a replacement for [a person who retires]. We have to make a concerted effort to plan the succession of people who are likely to leave the workforce."
Here, Bennett and leaders from some of the nation's other top clinical organizations offer insights into how they approach succession planning and training the next generation of leaders.
If a key manager gives two weeks notice with no plan in place, it can plunge an organization into turmoil—and two years is not too far ahead to plan for someone whose retirement date is already on the calendar. "You have to be thinking two- or three- or four-people deep in these critical positions because anything could happen to any individual at any time," says Diane Kremitske, Vice President of Laboratory Operations for Geisinger Health System, Danville, Pa.
Your existing workforce probably harbors at least some of your future leaders. "We are identifying younger, middle-level individuals," Bennett says. "We are gearing them up for this with the expectation that we'll be able to retain them in that position," even while acknowledging that the extra training and opportunities they get may make them targets for recruitment by competitors. Make sure they know you have your eye on them, notes Kremitske. "They may not have the same perception you have in terms of their growth within the organization."
Talent development requires patience and the willingness to fail occasionally, explains Paula Santrach, Chief Quality Officer at the Mayo Clinic. "You have to be very deliberate about developing talent when you have identified somebody with some basic skill sets and you want them to eventually fill another role." She recommends putting leadership candidates in unfamiliar positions and situations that allow them to practice new skills and become comfortable working across the organization. They probably won't succeed every time, but their failures will illuminate areas where they need more development and clarify which leadership roles, if any, they are best suited for.
Grooming future managers takes money and time: send them to specific management training, lend them to other departments for projects, staff deeply enough that you can overlap an outgoing manager with an incoming one for months—or even years for very complex roles. Not taking these steps might eat up even more money in the form of overtime, use of agency staff, and having to offer premium pay to hire a fully qualified manager on very short notice, notes Duane Fitch of the accounting firm Plante Moran. Too often, he says, an organization's succession planning process can be summed up as, "I hope this person doesn't quit with two weeks notice because that's going to create a big hole."
Steven Zibrat, Laboratories Manager of Quality at the University of Chicago, agrees. "A lot of places say, 'Well, this is going to cost me—doing this [succession plan] for the next year or two.' And the reality is, you're going to pay boatloads later if you don't do it."
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