Building Operating Management

Succession Planning for Facility Managers: How to Pass the Baton



Here are some tips and advice from experts on how to prep your successor to hit the ground running.


By David Lubach   Facilities Management

OTHER PARTS OF THIS ARTICLEPt. 1: This PagePt. 2: How to Identify Internal FM Candidates for PromotionPt. 3: How to Pass on Institutional Knowledge
succession planning

Harold (Bill) Good has spent the last 14 years of a 50-year career building Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools into a nationally recognized operations department.

At age 71, the time will soon come for Good, the district’s chief operations officer, to pass the baton to his successor. That person will have big shoes to fill — a notion not lost on Good, who has spent a good chunk of his life building his strong reputation. 

“The future (of the Des Moines district) is extremely important to me,” says Good. “I am not one to drop the keys on the desk and walk away. After so many years building (the department), the worry of it taking a turn does concern me. Long hours and sleepless nights have led to significant caring about the future.”

Facility managers across the country wonder the same thing. As FMs or the people under them retire or move to other organizations, the challenge is to replace those employees with new hires who will keep their departments humming along.

Good is not the only FM that wants to ensure his legacy is a memorable one. But how ready are FMs to pass that legacy on? How hard have they worked to establish a succession plan?

“How you craft your succession plan tells a lot about you as a senior executive and the legacy you want to leave behind,” says Stormy Friday, founder and president of the Friday Group, an international facilities services consulting firm. “The individuals you select and the plan you create is indicative of your management and leadership style and how you want to leave your organization for the future.”

Are you ready?

If you or one of your most important employees left the organization tomorrow, would your department be prepared to absorb the blow?

Turnover happens, and it can occur when it’s least expected. When it does happen, FMs need to be ready to act. In the sports world, we hear how the best executives always have a list of candidates at the ready in case a coach retires, moves to another team, or is relieved of his duties.

The best FMs should have a similar plan, yet not every FM is often prepared to replace those employees (or themselves).

“From our experience, we find that most of the facility executives we deal with think that succession planning is a luxury,” Friday said. “They think that as long as they’ve got some sort of a management team in place and have some senior level people in place it’s all going to happen naturally, and that’s not the case.”

Peter Strazdas has been at Western Michigan University for 40 years and admits that retirement is on his horizon. He also knows the importance of having a strong succession plan, knowing that other issues, such as a pandemic or a boiler breakdown, can alter priorities.

Before COVID-19, succession planning probably ranked in the top three of things leadership needs to consider, says Strazdas, WMU’s associate vice president of facilities. “But now with COVID times, we have other priorities that’ve pushed it back to the corner. That’s laid on top of a slow decline of headcount on campus. Given all that, especially with layoffs of late and budget challenges, it’s maybe pushed back to the top 10 instead of top three.”

Larry Morgan, the director of facilities for SAP,  plans to retire in two years and has already started the process of searching for his successor. It’s a process that he’s embracing and treats as a positive.

“Succession plans shouldn’t be looked at as a negative,” he says. “It’s a positive because good leaders are always looking for people who are better than you. I look at it this way: What am I doing for me, but also, what am I doing for the company? Do I want to leave them with a problem?” 

 This is the point where you should start lines of communication with other business units as well, says Morgan. There are a number of key questions to answer: What do you consider a successful person? We’ve had a 10-year relationship, I know how you work and you know how I work, but what kind of skills and qualities would you look for in somebody to take my place?


Continue Reading: Cover Story: Succession Planning

Succession Planning for Facility Managers: How to Pass the Baton

How to Identify Internal FM Candidates for Promotion

How to Pass on Institutional Knowledge



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  posted on 3/24/2021   Article Use Policy




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