Succession Planning for Your Facility Director: Why and How-To Start



Well maintained and optimized facilities impact many aspects of patient care, supporting the achievement of the triple aim: better health, better experiences, better value. Great facility directors are major drivers of the safety and quality performance journey of an organization. Great facility directors understand their team’s role and value in the greater organization, doing all they can to support the efforts of everyone in the organization. Leadership personnel changes are inevitable, facility departments included. Solid succession plans can significantly mitigate gap-ensued risk in this critical leadership position.

In a previous post, I referenced a 2012 HFM/ACHE report re aging facility directors– 40% over 55 year old (a frightening 35% increase from 2009). This coupled with an increasingly more technical skill set required of a facility director (not to mention excellent leadership and performance management skills) creates a rather small pool of qualified candidates. And to make matters worse, there are few formal educational degree tracks for Healthcare Facility Directors. These conditions underscore the importance of thorough facility management succession planning. It should be a formal, strategic process, supported by the organization’s executive leadership.

This conclusion was further cemented at the recent ASHE PDC conference in San Diego. I had over a dozen conversations, with a variety facility leadership levels, just on this topic. All agreed this is a substantial problem to address and will become increasingly more difficult over time. (We are working with clients today to help them through this very problem-solving process.)

Hopefully you are now convinced (if you weren’t already) of the necessity of formal succession planning but lack a process. My advice: Keep it simple. The following are steps to starting guiding you through formal facility management succession planning:

  1. Senior Leadership Support: Work with others in senior leadership to identify key positions that are critical to ongoing and uninterrupted operations and difficult to replace. What vacancies may cause the organization to skip a beat? Agree that a Facility Director is squarely in that category.
  1. Position Description Review: Evaluate the existing job description in light of required current and future position qualifications. Consider the organization’s strategic initiatives (major expansion, new programmatic growth, community wide emergency management reorganization) and the competencies needed for successful support. Consider commonly requested requirements by national recruiters: CHFM, 10-plus years of complex healthcare facility experience, CHC or significant construction management experience. Do not overlook the criticality of well-developed leadership and management skills. A great technician only gets the organization so far. Ask the organization’s key stakeholders what they value in a facility director–what qualifications will help them advance the organization’s goals? Based on all the feedback, revise the existing position description to best reflect the organization’s future needs.
  1. Identify Potential Candidates: Assess your organization to identify a talent pool and not just in Facility Management/Operations. Facilities staff have a variety of interesting backgrounds. You never know what jewel you might find in departments other than facilities and construction. Another somewhat internal source, may be the pool of consultants who are frequently working on-site. They can have a strong head start on understanding culture, operations and the staff.
  1. Complete Gap Analysis: Assess interested candidates’ current capabilities against the newly revised job description. Determine gaps.
  1. Professional Development Plan: Develop a training program–both formal and experiential training–to address gaps. Include timelines and targets. Remember to include stretch assignments to further polish skills and talents. If possible, establish a process for institutional knowledge transfer.
  1. Progress to Goals Review: Depending on the transition timeline, establish a periodic review of progress-to-goals (usually quarterly). Revise the development program as needed.

The above addresses succession planning with an internal option. However, a critical decision point is to determine if the future is an internal promotion or external hire. The “build or buy” decision can be informed by answers to the following:

  • What is the current health, efficiency and stability of facility operations?
  • What is the timeline available for transition?
  • Are the skill sets required available within the organization?
  • What are the technical and leadership/management educational resources?
  • Is the culture one that readily welcomes new ideas and perspectives?
  • How robust is the talent market?

Scores have been documented about the value of promoting from within. (If you need more information on this topic, let me know.) Typically, internal candidates stay longer, are less expensive and require a much shorter acclamation period. But without a bench with future advancement prospects, defined and implemented training programs, and assignments that continue to challenge the sophistication of existing skills sets, an external search may be the only option.

Regardless, a formal, defined succession plan considers every new hire and includes at least the following.

  • Qualifications and competencies required to manage the complexities of the position
  • Future organizational changes
  • Assessment of the existing talent pool
  • Identified gaps and development/implementation training plans that target those gaps
  • Quarterly measure progress to goals and revise plans as necessary

At the end of the day, what does success look like?

  • Performance, as demonstrated by internal key metrics, continues to improve
  • Quality indicators, externally reported metrics, also continue to improve
  • Apparent increase in bench depth
  • Engagement and retention remains high
  • A culture of service excellence prevails
  • Memorialized Institutional knowledge

A comprehensive succession plan, beyond Facilities, can be beneficial for the entire organization; this blog post is not intended to address it in that broad of terms. But, it is the author’s opinion, as I’ve mentioned, succession planning for the facility director (leadership) position is a necessity. The sooner, the better.

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