How to Mentor Yourself Out of One Job and On to the Next Job

By Doreen Watt posted 01-09-2019 12:04


The American Bar Association website states “Succession planning is essential to every lawyer’s practice, proactively protecting clients and colleagues in the event of the lawyer’s disability or death.”  It offers resources and recommended items to help facilitate successful succession planning that intersects with duties and responsibilities that cross many of our desks and departments.

Effective law firm succession planning should, and does, include effective planning for our own job succession.  This is applicable to smaller firms, where many staff act like Swiss Army Knives, in a do-it-all fashion, as well as large firms, where positions can become highly specialized.

A Paradox is “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.”  How many of us are planning our succession?  Are we planning our own career trajectory, and if so, are we planning our own succession?

Planning for our replacements and actively mentoring our replacements seems to fit the definition of a paradox.  You aren’t planning on leaving, but need to plan who will take over for you when you do.  How do you identify who will take over those tasks, and when you do, how do you keep that person active and engaged as you groom them for the position you are not planning on leaving?

Is succession planning only for those in ‘critical’ jobs?  Not necessarily.  If you are doing a job and doing it well, your job should be succession planned for.   Some jobs may, perhaps, not be the ‘get the servers back up and running’ critical, but every position to critical to some other person or to some other function (otherwise, why do we have the head count?  That’s a different Webinar).

We spend time reviewing and cultivating the skills we need to be successful in our positions and to potentially move ahead.  We’ve discussed and provided resources to help us identify our strengths and weaknesses with links to specific tools for doing that listed here.  That can also help us to identify what our successor will need, and can help you to start build a mentoring plan that you can use once you identify the successor.

Is that the first place to start with succession planning?  It can be.  You can also choose to start with your job description.  Understanding that if you’ve been in your position a long time and understanding the speed with which jobs change, the job description is always a good starting point.  Update your job description regularly – including the skills and experiences required for the position.

Many firms have HR Departments that can offer templates and tools to get us started on succession planning.  Another place to start is to take a piece of paper or create a word document or spreadsheet with three columns. For a week write down all the things you do and think about in the first column.  That would include the task (both actual work and thought-work).  In the second column you would identify what skill(s) you utilized to complete the task to do perform the thought work.  You will quickly recognize that many of the tasks require sets of skills.  Technical skills and soft skills will be identified.  In the third column begin to write how you acquired those skills.  It could be things like ‘on the job training’ or a technical certification or through a mentor.  Ask yourself what makes you successful in doing those tasks.

Once you’ve started identifying tasks and preparing an inventory for succession planning you can begin to think about how you would prepare that person.  Whether you have identified someone or not, [what do smaller firms do when they don’t have staff?] you need to think about how you will prepare a person to take over for you. How you would prepare that person to do the job you are already doing.   If you are fortunate enough to have identified a successor at your firm, how will you ensure they develop the skills needed?  Will you create a formal succession plan?  Will you let them know that is what you are doing?  How do you keep that employee engaged as they learn new tasks and skill sets to prepare them for your position when they know you are not looking to leave your position?   And don’t forget to plan for yourself.  Once you have a successor in place, what can you do with your time and talents?

And so we circle back around to the paradox of succession planning.  You know it’s a good idea, you know you should do it, you have some of the beginning steps to do it, but the question remains, and will you do it? 

New Year’s resolutions abound this time of year, and if you are planning how your career is going to go in 2019, how about putting succession planning on your list?