You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone!

There are a few popular songs in various genres that tout how much you’re going to miss (me) when (I’m) gone. As you look around your organization, consider who you would miss when they’re gone. Think about why you would miss them, it may be the ones that are least obvious that you’ll miss the most when they are gone.

In my few short years with the Pool, one of the things that I have seen cause much distress for our Members is turn over. Whether it’s a planned or sudden departure, many times I have seen replacement employees struggle to find information, to understand processes and theories behind what and how certain tasks were being done. So, the song rings true….you sure do miss them when they’re gone.

The question begs then, how do you make sure that while you will miss them for their bright smiles and positive attitude, but not for the knowledge they possess relative the day to day activities that keep the office running? How do you make sure that if one of your key employees wins the lotto, the rest of the staff can maintain business as usual, and that the transition to their replacement is as seamless as possible?

Succession planning is something that every organization should consider. Succession planning in concept is simple, you’re ensuring that critical positions in your organization have a plan in place for any necessary replacements. If the organization contains candidates who are being groomed for a leadership role in the future, the succession plan should also consider the vacancy that could be left due to the transition. We will focus only on the vacancy left by our key staff, as the trickle- down effect is typically minimal when we have a promotion from within the organization.

The first thing that is imperative for people inside your organization to understand is that having someone else know the key components of their job is not a threat. Often times, people are reluctant to ‘train their replacement’ because they begin to feel anxious that it is too easy to replace them, and that by keeping the information to themselves they have more control over their employment future. Unfortunately, this often times proves to be a disservice to not only the citizens we are charged with serving, but also the internal organizational customers who will suffer the most when those employees have moved on. It is important to impress upon your team that training your replacement is necessary to provide the highest level of service to your customers, and as we all know, when the customers are happy we too can be happy. Removing the anxiety of training your replacement will help to enhance the services that your team is able to provide.

Some organizations have a hierarchy where it is obvious who the successor for various roles are. Some do not. Where it is not obvious, time must be taken to consider the duties in place, and those to be taken over. It is important to have conversations with the teams impacted by the succession plan. Communication is, as with all things, key to a successful transition. By having meetings with your team, and those individuals who would bear the brunt of any additional responsibilities, there are no surprises, and if the time comes, your team is ready to step up and the transition, regardless of how temporary, can be seamless.

Succession plans are not one size fits all. Where a plan may work well in one organization, another may struggle. Succession plans may consider more than one entity to replace a single leader simply due to the specialized tasks and duties considered. Your organization should review the critical roles and determine who to best fill those in the event of a sudden separation from the organization.

Let’s look at an example of a successful plan. Mary works as the office manager for her organization. Mary has many duties that are outside the normal consideration for office manager, as she also has some human resources duties as well. Jane is her assistant, who has been trained to do all of the typical office manager duties, ensuring that all of the logistics of the office are taken care of, including maintenance, materials, supplies etc. Jane is aware of all of the contact information for pertinent services provided the organization, as well as who is authorized on each account to make changes as needed in the event of an emergency. Clare is not Mary’s assistant, but has been trained in the human resources roles that Mary currently holds. In the event of an emergency, Clare is trained and has access to all the relevant data to ensure that employee files are secured, and that payroll information is processed correctly so there is no interruption in employee paychecks. The key components of Mary’s job are appropriately identified and a backup has been trained. Mary does not worry when she is on vacation that something may happen, because she has trained her backups, trained her replacements, to ensure that the processes are carried on while she is gone. And when Mary returns, she can happily resume her role as the Office Manager without being overwhelmed with tasks and activities that became back logged while she was out.

Where there is a lack of planning, chaos tends to ensue. Deadlines are missed, and services are pushed to the wayside. Internal and external customers are impacted and for a time, the organization may struggle to find peace. Take some time now to avoid being in that position. Identify key positions, secure descriptions of tasks that are critical for ongoing operations and ensure that there are others who are trained and have access to the information to keep things running.

Being prepared is one of the key focuses of the SDPAA for its Members. In an effort to be proactive to risk management, the SDPAA offers a variety of loss control and risk management tools to its Members at no cost. If you need additional information about the benefits your entity enjoys through their membership with the SDPAA, or if you’re not a Member yet and want to be, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 800-658-3633, Option 2 or email us at

Lynn Bren, AIC SCLA
SDPAA Deputy Director