Best practices

Best practices

Best practices 5 There are many examples of succession planning in the literature, and Chapter 2 noted common elements of succession plans across or...

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Best practices


There are many examples of succession planning in the literature, and Chapter 2 noted common elements of succession plans across organizations. However, not every organization that implements a succession plan will necessarily implement it well. Each organization is different and many organizational factors will influence the success of a succession plan: leadership styles, organizational culture, personalities of the senior management team, communication structures, buy-in from employees and senior managers, and so on. Rothwell (2005) lists 15 characteristics of effective succession plans, while acknowledging that, in reality “there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ characteristics. Indeed, there isn’t a foolproof formula for success. But there are certain essentials to a good succession process” (pp. 56–58): 1. top management participation and support; 2. needs-driven with external benchmarking; 3. focused attention; 4. dedicated responsibility; 5. succession planning and management extends to all levels; 6. a systematic approach; 7. a comparison of present performance and future potential; 8. clarification of high-level replacement needs; 9. an obligation to identify and prepare successors; 10. specific developmental programs established and conducted; 11. high-potential work while developing; 12. developmental programs establish familiarity with who, what, when, where, why, and how; 13. developmental experiences encourage critical questioning; 14. succession planning emphasizes qualities necessary to surpass movement to the next ­higher-level job; and 15. formal mentoring emphasized.

Singer’s (2010) list of the right ingredients for good succession planning echoes many of the above characteristics: • commitment to and ownership of the process from top management; • vision of what the library needs; • snapshot of present conditions (Singer includes some guiding questions on page 17 to help library leaders assess the current workforce); • openness to nontraditional sources of talent; • culture of honest performance assessment, coaching, and feedback; • training and development programs; and • objectivity: keep an open mind about hidden talents in employees, finding new ways to do things, and potential biases about employees’ capabilities. Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries. Copyright © 2016 Janneka Guise. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries

Although none of my interview participants reported a systematic approach to succession planning in place at their institutions, a number of these ingredients or building blocks of good succession planning are in place across the country. I have collected respondents’ descriptions of successful strategies and present them in this chapter as best practices. While I acknowledge that successful strategy at one institution may not be so successful at a different institution, I hope readers will take away some ideas in order to generate discussions at their own libraries. I attempted to group the best practices into the four basic steps of succession planning identified in Chapter 2, although the data I gathered group most sensibly into the first three steps. • • • •

Preliminary Planning; Identifying Participants and Conducting the Talent Review; Implementation, Training, and Feedback; and The End and the Beginning.

The fourth step, “The End and the Beginning,” involves evaluating a succession planning program, revising competencies and staffing needs, identifying new candidates for development, and beginning the cycle again. Since the sites I visited did not reveal themselves to have systematic succession plans in place, it follows that there is little evidence of this fourth step occurring.

Preliminary planning Professional librarians and archivists in Canadian Association of Research Libraries (CARL) member institutions need to know that succession planning is a top priority of the University Librarian and the senior management team. The evidence of this toplevel support may manifest itself in multiple ways in this preliminary planning stage: organization-wide goal-setting exercises, a shared vision of the library of the future, supervisor/employee conversations about career goals and development, discussions within library units of future staffing needs, and more. A large branch library at a CARL institution appears to have several promising practices in place: wide participation in goal setting around learning and development, identification of talent through development opportunities, and self-identification. There also appears to be support for a culture of experimentation and innovation, success and failure. The head of the library reported an attempt at codifying internal strengths and competencies (an “inventory”), a recognition of failure of that attempt, and identification of positive elements emerging from the process. We have had a robust learning and development committee, and every year there are goals and objectives that are developed collaboratively by the members of the committee. Part of the focus is on developing skills…Our strategy has been to provide those types of opportunities for staff and librarians and in the course of that people are identifying their own talents and/or their talents are being shared. We previously tried to do an inventory and that failed. In theory it would be nice to

Best practices


capture the skills and talents that people have. But I think the process that we did develop, even though we failed to capture that information, subsequently we created some organizational excitement around the planning and the activities, and that has enabled us to leverage talents more effectively.

The positive attitude of respondents who are senior administrators was evidence of top-level support for succession planning, even if a systematic program is not in place. But I would say that the primary way people take on [leadership roles] is they just do it. Leadership comes from everywhere and anywhere. People who want it, don’t wait. They find projects, they coordinate the group to make those things happen, and they deliver. I think a real key to [success] would be a really common understanding among our entire professional group as to what [succession planning] meant, and how it was going to affect individuals. It certainly is a matter of understanding what positions are going to become vacant and how you’re going to work with that in the future… So I think for our institution we really have to think about what that means in terms of giving people opportunities…So I think that how to, again get our act together around those really big questions, would be the key. We have an ongoing voluntary mentorship program. Librarians who want to be mentored identify themselves…it’s volunteer based. That is the principle support that exists aside from their manager.

Some nonsupervisory librarians and archivists feel there is a supportive environment at their institutions. A pilot for some project where the library doesn’t have something similar in place already. Our director and managers would be very supportive in terms of time and ideas for how to do it. I’m lucky that I work somewhere where communication is not a problem. A lot of collegial conversations. We share our successes and our failures. A level of observation that happens at the beginning as well, we’re able to see each other in action. Because it’s a supportive environment we’re given free reign in terms of that. We do engage in several collaborative projects.

A branch head at the same institution reported some preliminary planning taking place for future staffing in a group of branch libraries overseen by an Associate University Librarian. We have some key positions in [these libraries] changing this year and next year, I see evidence that consultations are taking place, some thought is being given to the sequence of events and how that sequence will influence the outcomes. We have the [Associate University Librarian for these libraries] retiring, she was going to retire this month. She was persuaded to wait till next summer. At same time as she’s planning to retire there is another key position in her library, the head of this library


Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries

retired last summer, and I took over as acting head. One of the reasons this is an acting head position is because the [departing AUL] felt it was in the best interest of the system as a whole for the new [AUL] to make those decisions.

Identifying participants and conducting the talent review Some respondents reported annual goal-setting exercises within their units at which career goals and identification of talent take place. We do goal setting every year, got a pretty good idea what projects people are working on. So we have a section in our annual assessment form that talks about career development. So a manager could put something in there if they thought this person might be a good candidate to attend. This person should consider writing a few more articles for peer-reviewed journals, you know, that kind of thing. You wouldn’t put anything in there that you hadn’t discussed with the person, obviously. You want that to be something you both feel is important, and are in agreement with. Well, we do have a performance expectations and goal-setting process that I think leads to, can lead to people taking on challenging roles, others understanding how they have performed, and so on.

A nonsupervisory librarian at a large branch library reported regular staff meetings where goals and projects are discussed as a group and consensus reached on who has the skills and strengths to contribute to each activity: But I think we’re doing that [identification of talent], through communicating in meetings for everyone to identify what they’re interested in as a group so we can say, “this year you should do this” or people really starting to find their niche, and it’s developed through, well, participating in committees, attending conferences, and just allowing people, whether it’s a day or an hour, part of their time and that can become part of their more formal responsibilities, to the point that they almost have a second job title that’s being added on.

Implementation, training, and feedback Jaguszewski and Williams (2013), in New Roles for New Times: Transforming Liaison Roles in Research Libraries, noted that “the need for staff to develop and employ leadership skills refers not only to positional leadership but to the ability to lead from whatever position an individual holds, often called ‘leading from within’” (p. 14). The authors “imagine a forward approach that assumes all staff are capable of committing to a new and different future and desire to gain new skills and knowledge, thereby making these opportunities available to many” (p. 16). Clutterbuck (2012) makes the point that Succession Planning should be about making the best use of existing talent, not just about replacement (p. 24). It is also about recognizing a diversity of talent. Not

Best practices


everyone on the “talent radar” will have an interest in people management, for example. Some will have technical expertise. Libraries have a range of skill requirements and we should ensure that our “talent radar” is wide enough to encompass everyone. Librarians and archivists who want to gain experience playing a leadership role, or “leading from within,” need opportunities to do this. In order to gain a better understanding of opportunities for leadership at CARL libraries, I asked interview participants, “If a librarian or archivist wanted to take on a leadership role at your library, what opportunities and supports exist?” Service on library- and university-wide committees and working groups can give librarians and archivists valuable experience with project management and a better understanding of the big picture of the library within the larger institution. Such service allows librarians or archivists to lead from within an existing job description that may not have supervisory or management responsibilities and it can allow a librarian or archivist with an interest in leadership roles to become known to library leaders. Interestingly, many respondents mentioned committee service as a way for librarians and archivists to gain leadership experience in the workplace. Such service work can also lead to the librarians and archivists being seen by administrators as having potential for leadership, when professional development opportunities or management jobs become available. Singer (2010) suggests that service work is a best practice in staff development, and cautions, “[d]o not repeatedly ask the same people to serve on task forces or committees. For each new task force or job assignment, seek out a promising person who has not been given an opportunity to participate…if she agrees, provide support and watch her blossom” (p. 72). Or something comes up, somebody goes on a [leave]…We often just do that internally. We look around at who have we got left, and so and so looks like a reasonable leader for this unit or this service, and then you ask them. And if they’re interested in doing it, which often they step up to the plate, there’s another way to give people experience. We try to do that at every stage of the career…Same with the committees, try to move them around a bit and give them some exposure, then they know better where they think they should be developing as well. There is enough scope in our jobs, whether it’s working on committees or special projects so that people are seen in those types of situations…Could be as simple as asking to chair a committee. I think that we have different working groups in our unit so there’s opportunities to chair one of those groups for a year-long term, or to take a lead on a project. …right now I’m leading a little group. I think the opportunity came up when my colleague stepped down. Because of some staff changes I’m the sole leader now. I’m giving you this context because I was supported by my manager. She’s done a good job identifying strengths... I was going to say, the biggest opportunities and supports are outside of the library itself. They’re [the management] very supportive of the librarians running for office of professional associations…you can gain a lot of leadership and management experience in those roles…there’s not been any issue with those types of roles.


Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries

This unit head takes an even-handed, coaching approach with all the librarians in her unit, encouraging them to serve on committees: I always try to make sure that they’re all [all the librarians in the unit] serving in some way or form on some overall system committee, if I can. So they get experience working with people from other units in the library.

This nonsupervisory librarian told the story of an experience that stretched her skills and knowledge, which she now encourages colleagues to try: I was the negotiator for the librarians for the last collective agreement. It was really tough. And it was the first time I did it, and it’s going to be the only time I do it, and the reason is Succession Planning, right?…It was a really good experience, I learned a lot. I know the Collective Agreement very well now. I had the opportunity to work with lots of faculty members very closely, and develop relationships there. It was wonderful. It was a really good experience, I would recommend it to anybody. There were times when it was very hard and frustrating, and yeah it was time consuming. It was a very difficult negotiation. But, you know, I’ve told them somebody else has to do it next time around because we have to spread the expertise around, right? …You’re going to end up with librarians who really know the Collective Agreement. Who understand the spirit of certain clauses, etc. You’re going to raise the general knowledge eventually.

The collective agreement negotiation example given above is a good example of action learning in practice. According to Singer (2010), “[l]earning through action serves to help employees develop critical competencies by completing important library work…Action learning has also been used to select, assess, and develop stars and high-potential employees to new levels of knowledge, skills, experience, and competencies” (p. 72). Singer states that, in action learning, “the team works on real-world problems or business challenges that are often for high stakes,” and “the real-world challenge is a stretch assignment that extends beyond members’ experience” (p. 72). Rothwell (2005) defines action learning as “practical learning that builds competencies and is focused around solving problems, creating visions, seeking goals or leveraging strengths…participants in action learning are assembled to work on a practical, real-world problem…They are asked to collect information about an issue, experiment with solutions or implement them, and learn while they do that” (p. 256). Rothwell (2005) describes “verified succession planning and management” which “appreciates the importance of the individual in SP&M. Decision-makers identify desirable candidates for each job and then verify their interest in it by conducting career planning interviews or discussions. When a vacancy occurs, internal candidates are approached, but decision-makers are already aware of individual preferences, career goals, and interests. No pressure is exerted on the individual; rather decision-­ makers seek a balance in meeting organizational succession needs and individual career goals” (p. 35). Many respondents acknowledged that if librarians and archivists do not speak up for themselves, supervisors will not know they are interested in taking on leadership

Best practices


responsibilities. The remarks of these librarians are illustrative of this professional responsibility: I also think that a lot of people self-identify, maybe more vocally than others. I’m the type of person where, if I’m interested in something, I’ll say “I’m interested in this” and then for the next piece of how to develop it, I’ll say “I’m interested in this, and I’d like to go to this, and this is why you should let me go to this.” I know not all of my colleagues do that, and in that case if you’re not one of those strong personalities, I don’t want to say “pushy”, then that can sometimes get hidden. On one hand it’s incumbent on us as employees to speak up if we have an idea, and for the rest of us to listen.

This senior administrator’s comments echo the need for librarians and archivists to self-identify. She notes that employees should expect to have to work up to a leadership position: I would say if someone was expressive enough and said I’d really like to chair a committee or a working group and it made sense, I’d probably say yes. I think first though would be participation in working groups…We’re very committee-based… The committee chair puts out a call for members of the working group…In terms of how does leadership happen, if you just say ‘Hey, I never get leadership roles’ versus ‘Hey, I’ve been on four working groups, I’d like to chair one.

A nonsupervisory librarian has identified several ways he can lead from his position, from committee and project work, to taking on a personal interest such as Open Access and becoming a local expert, to showing leadership in your liaison work with a faculty or department: There are lot of leadership roles, you could be part of a committee and work on a specific project and deliver reports…You could do the old, you know, run on a rampage about a topic until everyone’s bleeding from their ears. You decide, you say copyright or open access and become an advocate for that...You could also be a leader within your special function. I’m a subject librarian and I like to think I have a few ideas, for example in the way I build an information literacy program for the business school.

It is important for librarians and archivists to gain practical supervisory and management skills, in addition to “leadership from within.” As Singer (2010) points out, “library managers rarely receive formal instruction on how to develop strategic plans and achieve goals, negotiate effectively, motivate staff, prepare budgets, manage buildings, or maximize employees’ potential” (p. 2). Most library supervisors and managers (including administrators) learn on the job or via professional development or continuing education opportunities. According to Sullivan (2013a), “the research on how competent leaders develop tells us that the most effective way to develop leadership competence is through trial and


Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries

error on the job” (p. 131). She describes this as an active learning approach, exemplified by the employee having “ample opportunities to practice the competencies over an extended period of time, usually six to eighteen months…a supportive work environment, [and]…challenging assignments…under the general guidance of an experienced and competent leader or manager” (p. 131). Some respondents reported challenges with providing supervisory opportunities to librarians or archivists who do not have such responsibilities outlined in their job descriptions. Union contracts normally prohibit such “out of scope” job assignments. However, other respondents have identified strategies they use to build supervisory and management skills among librarians and archivists without straying from job descriptions or collective agreement requirements. One unit head gives nonsupervisory librarians the opportunity to supervise MLIS students who earn credit by doing a certain number of hours of work experience in a library. Ultimately they are in a position with a defined scope of work, and I have to state that because I can’t have job creep occur. And that’s a problem...So what I have been doing over the past several years, is when we have [MLIS] students who come and ask to do internships with us, I ask the [librarians in my unit], I say, “This is your opportunity to gain supervisory skills.” It’s totally within their scope to do this work, but this is where they develop some supervision skills, right? And they can learn in a context where they’re contributing to the profession but also getting something back.

Another unit head at a different CARL institution identified an interesting opportunity for leadership and supervisory skill development in her unit: For example, because we’re not going to sign the Access Copyright license, we’re going to hire a couple of staff to input information about the licenses here, so we asked the 3 librarians here who don’t have leadership roles if one of them would like to take on that role. To train those people, and make sure they’re able to do what they need to do, help them interpret the licenses. So those kind of small leadership roles happen quite a bit.

One library system has an in-house development program for librarians who already have supervisory responsibilities: We have internal training opportunities that are not necessarily framed up as “this is a Succession Planning thing that we’re doing” but that I see, they’re activities, training that builds capacity for roles required in management and leadership. So we have for example a supervisor development program, a long, lengthy, weekly, monthly training for people who are already supervisors to broaden their experience and prepare them for perhaps more responsibility in their supervisory role.

In some cases, the librarians and archivists with an interest in moving up to positions of higher responsibility take the initiative to gain the experience they need.

Best practices


I think one thing is there is no formal plan about how to train us, for different positions, so I think that might not be a bad idea. That’s sort of why I’ve taken on a new role as a supervisor, I dreaded being a supervisor. I knew I needed experience in that… We have funding for professional development, so that is extremely helpful for people who are taking a self-directed approach to placing themselves within a succession planning structure of consideration, so that’s just about people trying to enhance their own strength as a candidate for new positions that may arise. And that’s supported by the organization.

Some CARL libraries have a senior administrative position responsible for staff learning and development. The placement of the position among the senior management team shows all staff the value placed on staff development at the top. This placement also gives the incumbent a broad view of training and development needs across library branches and units, increasing the likelihood of fair and even distribution of resources. We have a staff training librarian and that is incredibly helpful, just having someone who’s job it is to make people aware of opportunities…how to build training capacity for that and how to get training for your work, she’s a really important asset for our organization. I have found in the 22 yrs I’ve been in this library that training is something is valued and invested in, our staff.

Preserving institutional knowledge by transferring it out of a departing colleague’s head, and into the heads of the remaining colleagues, is a necessary component of succession planning. I think about how I can leave a mark on the institution and share my knowledge. It’s also something that can happen every day in a way. Because we have a lot of different kinds of contracts: we have student librarians…we [contract librarians] who are only here for 3 yrs max…even colleagues who are tenured or tenure track, who knows when they might pick up and go. Family reasons and whatnot…I always try to have an approach where I share as much as I can with my colleagues. Especially for the more bureaucratic stuff like, how did you get that request in, how did you manage to get that done…How did you write that sabbatical report, or how did you request that really neat stapler.

Knowledge transfer is complicated for a number of reasons: First of all, even if the departing colleague has a procedure manual for his/her day-to-day tasks, there is always “tacit knowledge” that resides in the incumbent’s head that is difficult to identify. Second, it takes time to work with the departing colleague to document their knowledge, and many librarians and archivists do not feel they have the time to devote to this documentation. Third, some institutional knowledge resides in e-mail


Succession Planning in Canadian Academic Libraries

communications and these are difficult to access once a colleague departs (often their institutional e-mail accounts are frozen or deleted immediately). Finally, once the information is documented, it is difficult to find a suitable way to share the information with the necessary staff. Will the documented knowledge be in the form of a printed manual, an online manual (in which case, will there be perpetual access to the online file), will it be accessible to all staff, only selected staff, and will future staff be able to update the information? An important step in knowledge transfer is for the incumbent to recognize that they have knowledge they need to share with colleagues before they leave. One respondent in my study reported a more systematic effort in her branch library to document procedures in manuals: Something that I think we’ve been a lot more conscious of in the last few years is documenting our processes and procedures: we have a number of manuals, we have a brand new a circulation procedures manual, a wiki for collections procedures, we have, in Weldon Library, a repository for instruction materials. Those sorts of things are helpful when you have staff turnover, maternity leaves and what have you.

Department heads from different institutions reported that they share knowledge with key individuals in their units, in order to develop staff with management potential. Here we have 3-4 people that could do it I try to expose to different things. I tell them more than you might normally tell individuals about the administration of the library, personnel stuff, money stuff, who some of the key players are for certain decisions. It is sometimes hard to find out about the financials of the library system. How do you go about making financial decisions, that piece, how you balance financial decisions. That’s something we maybe need to do more in. There are issues about who thinks what is confidential. I try to share some of those details with some of the senior people in this library.

Job shadowing, job rotations, and mentoring are all ways of sharing and transferring institutional knowledge. One CARL library had had a culture of job rotation in the past and this respondent noted its many benefits to the individual and to the organization: …it used to be a matter of course. If the head of the library went away for 2 weeks, somebody else was assigned to step in and just manage things for 2 weeks and it would give that person experience. That doesn’t happen anymore. Instead what they do is take that person’s responsibilities and parcel them out among the other administrators. Instead of saying, “This is an opportunity.” And they can appoint whoever they want, there’s nothing in the collective agreement for administrative positions, they can appoint someone temporarily to take on the job and let them struggle a bit and do it. They’re going to learn a lot and you’re going to be creating people with experience in the system. When [administrators] go on administrative

Best practices


leave or whatnot. Or one month vacation, as they do. To put somebody there so they can see what it’s like to have to respond to all of these staff requests and scheduling problems and sick leave and everything else. It’s all experience and then they become more knowledgeable. And it leads to greater understanding too, because it’s always a good thing to see the other perspective…So it’s really, really healthy for the librarians to step out of their normal role and see things from a different perspective, and it leads to greater understanding, and will lead actually to greater collegiality and all kinds of things.

Voluntary or phased retirement programs are excellent opportunities for the departing colleague to share their knowledge with staff who will remain. There’s a…gradual retirement program that we have…So you could do 18 months, then you’re on leave for a year and a half and you graduate at the end of that, or you could do you know, 3 days a week for 3 years…Colleagues of mine when I started were on gradual retirement and it was a great time to have knowledge transfer and learn from them still. I’m talking the first 5 years I was here, they didn’t just pick up and leave from one day to the next. They were around, and then they would go for a while and then come back for a little bit, and you could ask them questions and learn from them again so that was kind of a nice ease out.

Summary Many of the key ingredients or building blocks of succession planning are already in place at CARL libraries, particularly in the first three of the four basic steps of succession planning: • Preliminary Planning; • Identifying Participants and Conducting the Talent Review; and • Implementation, Training, and Feedback.

With so many positive initiatives across the country and support from the literature as to the benefits of succession planning, why are there no examples of systematic succession plans in place at CARL libraries? The answer lies in the many barriers to succession planning reported by librarians and archivists at the sites I visited. These barriers are identified and discussed in the next chapter.