On Your Way Out: Succession Planning Suggestions for Chairs

LEAP Chairs’ Lunch December 3, 2009

The approach here is an alternative to “the keys are in the mailbox, good luck” approach to Chair succession.

Try to start one year before the new chair takes office.
Prepare your colleagues for the transition

a) Review your department’s guidelines/bylaws for electing a chair. Suggest changes if needed.

b) Get faculty talking about the transition, thinking about the future. Get them involved in the process.

c) After the election, train the office and department staff for the change. Revisit their areas of responsibility to be sure everyone is clear, especially vis a vis each other and the chair.
Organize, Straighten Up, and Declutter

a) Gather department policy statements: missing any?

b) Make list of your unfinished projects — finish up as many as you can.

c) Collate records with an eye toward showing continuity of a process over the years (such as using through multiple tabs on an Excel spreadsheet).

d) Start going through Chair’s files and emails to get rid of those that future chairs won’t need.

e) Organize emails, especially sent mails. Suggest using something like Outlook, which puts emails into files that are easy to index and search.
Build Transition Materials

a) Create a tickler calendar. Link each item to the documents used for that item.

b) Create “how to” documents for routine processes. Staff can assist. Could use something like VUE (mapping software)

c) Create list of “chronic projects” (building problems, etc.)

d) To help the new chair avoid “reinventing the wheel,” gather and document the list of things you decided to do in a certain way based on experience or conversations with others.

e) Document and explain any processes that might seem idiosyncratic, or against common sense.

f) Whenever you come across a bit of useful information, add it to the materials. Suggest using something like OneNote.

g) Create a list of important contacts, and why each person is on the list.

h) Thoroughly prepare budget materials.
Train the Chair-Elect

a) 4-6 weeks before the transition, hold one-on-one training sessions with the chair-elect in key areas, e.g., budget, faculty affairs , staff and office affairs. Use lots of handouts.

b) Put files you have been preparing on a network drive so the chair elect can review them as you continue to develop them and so that you can answer any questions that come up. (Using a network drive means you don’t have to worry about different passing different versions back and forth)

c) Have the chair-elect apprentice with you or shadow you if possible, perhaps for a month.

d) As you meet with the chair-elect, reflect yourself on how the new chair might decide to do things differently.

e) Near the actual time of the transition, talk explicitly with the chair-elect about what you both see as your role vis-a-vis the new chair: coach? advisor? emergency contact? or perhaps separated? distant? hands-off? Something inbetween? Should the new role be formal or informal? Each of you must make a different transition—what do you need from each other to make those transitions successful.
Prepare for Your Own Transition

a) Remember that although you’ve created these records for the new chair, it’s up to him or her to decide whether to continue using them. They can redecorate if they want.

b) Create space to unwind/unclench and appreciate your new free time.

c) Reflect on what the immediate-past-chair role will mean for you (demoted in a sense, yet still possessing all the knowledge, expertise, and experience your colleague must now learn)

d) Give yourself time to re-establish relationships with colleagues as a peer.

e) Prepare yourself for the set of firsts: the first time the new chair does something differently than you did, or makes a decision that you would not have made, the first time the new chair makes a mistake or suffers a failure (as we all do), the first time you fully realize that to your department colleagues you have again become an ordinary, regular faculty member.

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