Our award-winning columnist, Jeff Dearduff, breaks down the game of leap frog and outlines how succession planning is key to any employee development plan.

Leap Frog

Remember when you were a kid and you played a game where your friend would crouch on all fours and you jumped over their back in order to get one step ahead of them? This is the game of “leap frog.”

    In business, it could be called “training someone to take your job.”

    It’s a common business strategy to make sure someone is trained to replace you in the event that you move on to another position, or worse, something suddenly happens to you. They call this initiative “succession planning.” When they drew up the plans for this concept, they forgot to inform you that if you do a satisfactory job in preparing your subordinates, they could actually “leap frog” your job before you even move on.

    For the sake of sanity, consider the positives. As an experienced manager, you know that one of your responsibilities is to mentor those people who you view as up-and-comers. You also know that part of the mentoring job is for you to be willing to share your secrets and your network of business contacts.

    Let’s take a stab at how the process works and how to develop that person who will, one day, eventually take your job.

    The first and most difficult part is selecting a candidate with whom you will hand over the reins. You might even go through a couple of people before you find the one who will be able to uphold the quality work ethics and ambition you have demonstrated. Once you identify that person, you will be set to improve his or her career.

    After making a decision during the beginning stages of this adventure, you must put the chosen one in a position where you can assess and even challenge your candidate’s present knowledge.

    To start with, you may put the mentee (one who is mentored) into a role that has a higher technical or administrative exposure in the business of maintenance management. From there, let your daily review of that person’s performance drive the next steps. Because there isn't a book to guide you through the rest of the process, you will be writing it as you go.

    Historically, you have handled the day-to-day activities of your department, and one of the hardest things to do involves handing off certain responsibilities to the new person. As you hand out more tasks, you provide guidance toward an easier transition and a faster learning curve.

    Keep in mind that your mentee will only become advanced in those areas you choose to share.     Don’t hold anything back if you are truly looking to develop a person to his or her fullest potential.

    To bring the new person along at a quicker pace, some steps might include allowing the candidate to deal with a personnel conflict, oversee a small project or work through problems with process systems. As these issues and challenges arise, you can gauge the mentee’s performance, make the necessary suggestions and provide the additional training to overcome any gaps in knowledge. As I noted last month, a little “course management” will come in handy as you line up the right programs for the right situation.

    Another area of development deals with industry knowledge in general. In the baking industry, it is quite common for upper management to be involved in organizations and committees, but it is rare that we make the opportunities available to those learning how to climb the corporate ladder.

    When you can open up your vast network of contacts at these events, your mentee will begin to get a taste of the broader world. Show the candidate how you interact with the suppliers, consultants and other bakery engineers and teach your protégé how to act in the future.

Contacts in this industry, like many others, are the lifelines that can help a difficult situation find a quick resolution.

    Succession planning is critical to any business that intends to be around for many years. None of us will be in our jobs forever. We have all worked for or worked alongside those people who will not share a thing. We have all seen situations where the person who is second in charge is not prepared to take over a critical position. We have seen companies struggle when they don’t develop their employees properly.

    Having someone ready to take your job will look good in the eyes of company management since this is the ultimate way to demonstrate your concern for the company’s long-term well-being.

    The impetus for mentoring is our desire to promote from within our company. If you have someone ready to move up to take on greater responsibility, promotion from within is a given. If not, the outside world gets a shot when that position has become available.

    The corporate game of leap frog doesn’t have to be so daunting. If you do well in developing your mentee that he or she actually leap frogs you, find a way to be proud of your accomplishments.

    Look for a way to smile when you see your candidate prosper in the job and succeed in the industry.


Jeff Dearduff


**Note: This column was printed in the October 2008 Buyer's Guide.