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Training Successors Without Hurt Feelings

Training Successors Without Hurt Feelings
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Copyright MMVII, MMXI Liz Weber, CMC, CSPWeber Business Services, LLC.


Liz Weber CMCLiz Weber, CMC CSP

Liz Weber coaches, consults, and trains leadership teams. She specializes in strategic and succession planning, and leadership development.

Liz is one of fewer than 100 people in the U.S. to hold both the Certified Management Consultant (CMC) and Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designations.

Contact Liz’s office at +1.717.597.8890 for more info on how Liz can help you, or click here to have Liz’s office contact you.


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2 thoughts on “Training Successors Without Hurt Feelings”

  1. From my work in my Succession Planning Toolkit, I’m a great believer that succession planning can be such a great asset to drive, well, an organization’s culture and success platform.

    Let’s stick to the team level though to explain.

    When a great manager has the time to coach, support and develop their people to become multi-capable so that all the bases of key players are covered, just for the fun of it, not only will individuals use their own abilities to support the development of others, but as each is stretched and challenged, they become more loyal; more motivated and, well, they just hang around for more (psst – they even do it for less too!).

    It does depend on the manager’s own skills to engender trust through the team so that each is unafraid of consequences. And that’s no mean skill at all.

    And as wonderful manager’s build teams which have sustainable depth of capability, they can be the model for other teams too.

    So when managers ask, ‘Will you be telling my boss how to do this?’, I say, maybe. And then you can also be the model who others aspire to, so teach them how and then the organization will become as you and your team are…

  2. Liz Weber says:

    Ah Martin we’re kindred spirits! You are so right: “as each is stretched and challenged, they become more loyal; more motivated, and well, they just hang around more (psst – they even do it for less too!)

    There’s nothing sneaky about this; there’s nothing deceitful. This is simply appealing to a human beings desire to succeed — to whatever level s/he desires. The trick for managers is to identify what that level is for each employee, then provide the coaching & support to attain that level — then as you say, they often take hold of the situation for themselves and their peers. Those who don’t fit this model will quickly self-select themselves out of the organization — or management should.

    Thanks for connecting Martin. I look forward to hearing more from you! L

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Posted by Liz Weber CMC on September 5, 2011 in Leadership Development and tagged , , ,