For the majority of medical laboratory scientists who work at the bench, succession planning rarely comes up in casual conversation—most lab professionals perform bench duties without taking on additional responsibilities within a company or organization. This is a perfectly acceptable choice.
However, when lab staff do take on additional responsibilities, leaders must begin planning for that person’s departure from the bench or from the organization. This planning process is known as succession planning.
Succession planning is a multistep process of identifying the crucial staff positions within your clinical lab and developing a dynamic plan to ensure those positions are always filled, including leadership positions.
This article breaks down each step of the succession planning process and guides you through each step.
1. Identify crucial roles and responsibilities in your clinical lab
When beginning succession planning, start by identifying the roles and responsibilities in your clinical lab that require additional training and specialized skills.
Once you’ve identified the crucial roles, you’ll have a clear view of the specific skills or responsibilities needed to successfully fill that role. For most clinical labs, this involves ensuring you have a broad range of skills to round out your staff.
2. Assess current clinical lab staff
Ideally, filling a crucial role with an internal candidate is your best option. This requires less training, as candidates would already be familiar with the workflows and computer systems in your lab.
For example, if you know a position will soon be available, such as if a staff member with additional responsibilities will soon be retiring, start looking for an internal replacement as soon as possible, including before a staff member leaves the lab.
If certain responsibilities in the lab are held by a few individuals, ensure you have a trained backup ready in the instance someone leaves. For example, if the lab member currently performing this task or responsibility is suddenly hit by a bus and can no longer work, you have someone else who can immediately replace them, a concept otherwise known as the “bus contingency.” At the very least, your lab should have written instructions and guidelines to help someone who unexpectedly replaces another staff member’s responsibilities.
3. Create development/mentorship plans for lab staff
Once you identify which staff members are eligible to fill an internal job opening, develop a plan to gradually include them in the additional responsibilities by matching them with a mentor who is either currently in the role or who can pass on the relevant skills/experience to be successful in the role.
Specifically, use mentorship plans to close knowledge gaps and facilitate a smoother transition between bench technologist/scientist roles and leadership/management roles.
If you identify other gaps that need to be addressed, create and implement additional mentorship plans to ensure your candidate is well-rounded and equipped to successfully transition to a leadership role.
Mentorship plans should be considered long-term. Quick mentorship plans do no service to the mentee or the mentor because they do not allow for adequate time to introduce a mentee to their new responsibilities and for them to become comfortable performing them.
4. Implement continuing professional development/mentorship plans
Once you have created a professional development plan for a particular lab member, ideally, you should implement it over several months to allow mentees to effectively integrate new knowledge and responsibilities into their skillset.
Mentorship is also a two-way street: Mentors should schedule one-on-one time with mentees to get feedback on how well they are learning new skills, and how the mentor can further help them develop their skills. Leaders should also solicit feedback about improving the overall mentorship experience in their clinical lab.
5. Evaluate successor readiness
Once a candidate has completed an initial mentorship, evaluate the candidate for readiness for the position. The readiness evaluation should be performed while there’s still time to add additional training if a candidate’s skills are lacking, or if there are other concerns related to them taking on the position.
In particular, the mentee should have now actively participated in training and taken on some of the key duties and responsibilities that would have prepared them to take over the position or responsibility.
After an assessment, if the mentee is not yet ready to transition, reevaluate their mentorship or professional development plan to determine how or why the program failed to adequately prepare the mentee, or whether they would be better suited to a different role in the lab.
6. Transition clinical lab leadership
Transitioning leadership in your clinical lab should be straightforward. Sometimes, the person leaving a role and the one coming into it may overlap, where the former would step back from their responsibilities and allow their successor to gradually step into the role. This overlap means the predecessor is available for questions should their successor face a situation they haven’t prepared for, smoothing the overall transition.
7. Evaluate your plans and make adjustments
After a successor has taken over a new position for some time, review the transition plan with them and other key stakeholders to determine where they could have benefited from additional training and mentorship throughout the process. This facilitates full circle communication and provides an opportunity to improve the process.
Succession planning prepares your lab staff for success
Succession planning is a long process with multiple steps to ensure successful job role transitions in crucial positions within an organization. When executed properly, succession planning promotes well-trained and well-rounded individuals and prepares them for success.
Planning successful transitions should be part of any leadership plan within an organization to compensate for sudden vacancies in crucial senior or leadership positions that aren’t easily filled.