A manager recently approached me with this troubling issue,
"My back-up person is incredible. But when she retires, which she's eligible to do at any moment, we'll be in big trouble. My problem is: How do I train someone else to do her job, without taking responsibilities away from her? I don't want to hurt her feelings and make her feel as if I'm trying to push her out the door by training someone else to do her job."
That's an excellent question for an all-too-common problem.
Here’s how to address it:
- Remember that a key responsibility of management is to ensure that production continues regardless of shifts in resources; and in this case, shifts in personnel due to retirements. When a known or anticipated shift may occur, it is management's job to have contingency plans in place to accommodate them. In this case, it is the manager's job to ensure there are one or two backups in place for every member of her staff. This creates depth in the department and obviously promotes cross training among staff.
- Consider the employee's feelings about her job. Many of us become possessive and territorial with our work. Quite often, we are the ones who created the job, and who developed and refined the systems that have allowed us to do our jobs effectively for years. It is a very real and very human reaction to not readily relinquish aspects of our jobs. Goodness knows, no one else will be able to do them as well as we do! The manager needs to acknowledge each employee’s potential possessiveness with his or her job, while helping them learn the importance of sharing what they know with others. It now becomes this employee's job to train her own backups—not the manager.
- Help your employees learn how to delegate to and train others. A woman at a conference shared an important idea on delegating with me a few years ago. She told me: "Dumping is when you give someone else the work you don't want to do yourself. Delegating is when you give someone else the work you love to do yourself." That statement had a profound impact on me. How much time, effort, patience, and attention to detail will you have if you give another person those elements of your job that you don't really like? Not much. But if you have to start sharing and delegating elements of your job that you love to do yourself, how much time and attention to detail will you spend with that new person training him or her on how and why you do your job the way you do? I would guess, a great deal more. By default, we become better trainers when we are handing off tasks we care about.
So, what's this manager supposed to do now? She needs to sit down with all of her employees and explain the need for every employee to identify and start training at least two other people how to perform key aspects of their particular jobs. This will take time. That's why we suggest each employee create a short-term and long-term list of items they need to train someone else on, as well as a list of tasks they (themselves) need to be trained on—then work their lists. This basic give-and-take process fosters greater communication among staff, enhances relationships among staff, and also, shares the knowledge. It's a win for everyone involved—and no one gets hurt.