Succession Planning is Key to Professional Continuity


By Sandy Smith

July, 2019

Everyone wants to think they’re irreplaceable. Yet when the lottery hits new heights, the lines are long—with many dreaming of quitting their day job. Retirement parties come around frequently. And no one likes to think about it, but people die every day—and many of them are still in the workforce when it happens. 

Then there are happy things: marriages that take someone out of state, or a promotion that leaves the role vacant.

In a world in which vacancies may mean the full-time equivalent shifts to another department or in which a fleet professional suddenly juggles additional responsibilities, having the next hire identified makes sense. And it may prove more valuable than simply filling the job.


Plans in Place 

According to research from the HR and recruiting technology firm Software Advice, 62 percent of employees say they would be “significantly more engaged” at work if their company had a succession plan. Employers agree that succession plans lead to more engaged workers. Millennials say they have an improved level of engagement when a clear succession plan is in place. 

It also helps with recruitment of the next generation of workers, said June Martin, Co-op Consultant, Employer Development, with the Automotive Business School of Canada (ABSC), Georgian College in Barrie, Ont. “To attract students, start planning ahead and include this group as your future talent.”


One core element of any succession plan is ensuring that the successor is ready. Mentoring can pay off for years to come, and companies should consider mentoring students even while they’re in school.

Martin readily admits that Millennials are sometimes criticized for thinking they’re ready for a promotion even before they walk into the job. She doesn’t see it that way. “They want to see where the opportunities are. Sometimes it’s misconstrued that they want to be a manager right away. But this generation just looks at things differently. They’re committed, and they want to be a part of something bigger. It’s important to them to understand how the operation works, where the opportunities are and the various pathways to get there.”

Developing a succession plan should not mean that a person must be promised the next job opening. It just means that leadership has seen some career growth as a possibility—and is willing to invest in helping them get there. While a formal succession plan might be needed for a company’s upper leadership, other methods can be used to help grow everyone for the next step on their career ladder.


Look to the Future

When NAFA Member Brian Barkley, CAFS®, Fleet and Asset Manager for the County of Simcoe (Ont.) looks a few years down the road, he sees a number who are nearing retirement. He sees the same when he looks in the mirror. Though the county’s fleet department turnover has been historically low, he still questions who will be around to manage the county’s fleet of 377 items, ranging from heavy equipment to trailers. 

“It is commonly known that fewer and fewer young people are seeking careers in the trades, such as mechanics,” Barkley said. “Many public and private organizations are having trouble filling mechanic positions. Therefore, we will be exploring options to deal with these possible shortages.”

The fleet team—one manager, two fleet coordinators, one administration coordinator, five vehicle mechanics, and three part-time drivers—may be small by comparison to other organizations, but Barkley thinks “this makes dealing with succession planning much more critical. “

The fleet team handles acquisitions, remarketing, preventive maintenance and repairs, lifecycle, accident investigations, and insurance claims while trying to green the fleet. Add in complying with regulations, managing outsourcing activities, reviewing drivers’ license records and other tasks. It’s a tall order, for a small staff. “Losing one person could possibly have a large impact on our operations,” said Barkley.

The county has made sure that cross-training among the same job category is completed for all staff—and that brings added benefits. “Cross-training also eliminates staff specialization and promotes familiarity with all facets of our operations and the various vehicle configurations,” he said. 


Readying the Next Generation

One core element of any succession plan is ensuring that the successor is ready. Mentoring can pay off for years to come, Martin said. She suggests companies consider mentoring students even while they’re in school. “Students can be mentored while finishing their academics and hopefully move into a fleet role fairly quickly. Fleet is a career about which you need to get people excited. It’s about understanding the importance of the role and the future possibilities.” 

She points to NAFA’s Certified Automotive Fleet Specialist® program as a good starting point for investing in workers. “Mentoring students and recent graduates through the program can help,” she said. “Unless you’ve worked in the industry directly, these certifications are difficult to pass. Working with a student or a recent hire to achieve CAFS® certification certainly shows you are willing to invest in their future.”

And while it can be a bit of a gamble, she believes new graduates—or even those still in school—can be worth the investment. “Get involved with colleges and universities by participating in internships and co-op programs,” she said. She notes that one company provided a full-day session at their office. “They wanted students to get an up close and personal look into the world of fleet. They chartered a bus and brought them to their office. They provided a tour and a meet and greet with senior leaders and alumni from ABSC, who are currently there. This day-in-the-life of someone who works in fleet provided clarity as to what the company and the career opportunities are all about. To someone who doesn’t know about fleet management, it is one step further than just attending a career fair.”

She has seen career fairs at ABSC wane in favor of “Speed Networking” events which pair students more closely with potential hiring companies. That’s not all that has changed. Succession planning is no longer about completing a form and tucking it away in a drawer. “Companies have to change the way they look at it,” she said. “It needs to be simplified so that future candidates can be identified easily. People who are identified as leaders sometimes get lost in the shuffle of a large operation.” 

She recommends that any succession plan or leadership development program be comprised of more than just a handful of people responsible for identifying potential candidates “Keep an open mind and make sure that you have the right people in place who can identify potential leaders. A committee will produce much better results than one person influencing who is ready for leadership or growth.”

That may mean developing more than just one identified successor and investing in a cadre of potential leaders. If that’s the case, a less formal program may be needed. “Time is of the essence and no one has that extra time. Consider things like lunch-and-learn programs, where people can learn what it’s like to move through the organization and what are the skills needed. Then provide a Gap Analysis so that they can understand what they need to do—and give them opportunities to receive training that helps fill those gaps.”

One thing is certain: Times have changed, and worker expectations have changed right along with them. “It’s not old-school where they’re happy with just a full-time job with benefits,” Martin said. Workers are passionate about what they do. I think companies forget that and they may think, ‘It’s a good paying job. What else do they want?” It’s not just about that anymore. I think the bigger question is, “What are companies doing to attract this generation? Companies who let a worker know that they see potential, invest in them and make them a part of their future growth, can help solve workforce issues.”

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