Before They Walk Out the Door

If your department is like most, you have a member in a position that requires a unique set of knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform. His involvement is usually unmatched by any other, and if this person were to leave, it would be detrimental, as there has been no one else trained to fulfill the role in a similar capacity. Subsequently, when this individual eventually does leave, out of necessity someone steps up to the challenge, is designated to fulfill the position, or is brought in from the outside. Regardless of the circumstances, there is a learning curve that results in a loss of proprietary knowledge, continued growth, as well as productivity-all of which has the potential of being avoided through the concept of succession planning.

Recognize and Train

Succession planning has the potential to be viewed in different fashions, but overall there is a basic concept that can be applied to the fire service. In general, the thought is to simply recognize and train respective members who show the potential for, or the interest in, learning a particular skillset for a needed position. To start, the position in question will need to be identified. In some departments, this may be a chief; in others, it might be an officer for a specialty unit or the driver of a particular piece of apparatus. Each department will have its own respective set of circumstances that dictate the need.

Next, departmental members will need to be recognized for their interest. For quantity, everyone can be solicited though applicable means. This may, in fact, yield the largest pool of candidates to choose from; however, it also offers the opportunity for those with alternative interests to apply. For quality, solicit and reach out to individuals. By speaking directly to members or working though recommendations, there is the potential for a much smaller but dedicated pool of candidates; this option is preferred for succession planning to be the most effective.

Finally, the selected person will need to receive the pertinent and applicable training to allow for a base level of competency and skill. This in turn will require the assistance of a dedicated instructor or mentor to accomplish. The mentorship program’s importance cannot be overstated, for it is here that the organizational success and the future of a department will be ensured. The end results will be an individual or pool of candidates available to seamlessly transition into a critical position without any departmental losses.

Specialty Unit

As an example, let’s look at a previously mentioned position, the officer of a specialty unit. For most organizations, this position would be on a truck, heavy rescue, hazardous material, or swift water unit and is deemed “special” because of the advanced training, knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to proficiently work on the apparatus and supervise the crew. When a vacancy occurs, because of a retirement, promotion, or transfer, the ideal scenario would be to have an individual already fully prepared to take over-ensuring the continuity of operations. To ensure that this is what occurs, take the following necessary steps:

  • As a department, accept and understand that not everyone is suited to fill the role of an officer on a specialty piece without preparation.
  • Identify interested members through solicitation.
  • Provide the training and fully prepare the selected officer candidates for the specialized role. This may entail bringing instructors in, sending personnel out, or establishing a self-certifying process.
  • Provide a mentor who is a subject matter expert and is able to fine tune particular skillsets and provide clarification when needed. Mentorship should be ongoing with no definitive ending.

Effort Evaluation

So how do you evaluate your efforts, the success of your endeavors, and the return on the investment? The answers are twofold, with the first being effort and comfort. When the time arrives to fill a position, there should be minimal strife in selecting the appropriate person. If you are apprehensive about the choices, the process was not effective.

The second is department specific and value based. An organization that sees the benefit of its personnel receiving additional training and creating working relationships, regardless of selection, will view the process as a success even if some participants do not progress in rank or fill a position. Others, however, will only consider advancements or promotions as a guide for measurement.

In short, succession planning has its place in every department or division and can be used to ensure an uninterrupted exchange of information and the promotion of continued growth and development. This is accomplished through the identification of key positions, selection of suitable applicants, the provision of training, and the direct guidance from an assigned mentor.

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