By Katherine Spencer Lee

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Every technology executive knows how important back-up can be for a firm's computer network, but many have not taken the same precautionary measures for their own positions by grooming a successor.

By identifying and training someone to fill your shoes in the future, you can ensure a smooth transition should you receive a promotion, retire, leave the company or take an emergency absence from work.

While the practice may seem risky to some people (after all, what if the person appears better qualified to perform your job than you are?) it actually makes it easier for you to advance in your career because there are no concerns about who will take your place.

In addition, succession planning can be critical to the stability of your IT department. You'll have an employee in place who already understands the strategic issues affecting your organization's information systems. As a result, he or she can move into the leadership role and continue current processes and practices with minimal disruption.

You'll also demonstrate to all IT staff that there is advancement potential at the firm, which can increase motivation and retention.

The Envelope Please

The ideal person to assume your role isn't necessarily the highest-ranking employee reporting to you. An IT manager who enjoys having direct involvement in technology initiatives and daily interaction with staff may not be satisfied in an executive role requiring significant time planning strategy, overseeing budgets and attending meetings. Take a look at all senior-level professionals on your team as potential protigis to ensure you find the right fit.

Consider not only the skill set needed to perform your job today but also what might be needed in the future. Perhaps the company has long-term expansion plans that will require the CIO to manage IT staff and technology needs in remote locations? Make sure your leading candidate has the talent to rise to the challenge (and likes to travel).

Some abilities can be learned through mentoring, seminars and training sessions, while others cannot. A senior IT professional may be a whiz with Microsoft operating systems but never develop the interpersonal skills needed to inspire and lead a group of employees.Training

Once you have selected a successor, let the person know. Even if you don't think you'll need a replacement in the near future, you still want time to provide adequate training. Also, if you keep silent, the person may not realize she is potentially on an upward career track and could decide to look for advancement opportunities at another company.

Assuming she is interested, give her exposure to assignments and situations that are common in the CIO role. For instance, you might ask her to join you in executive meetings or serve as the lead advisor on a financial systems conversion at your company. The more practice she gets with project management, negotiation and communication, the easier it will be to transition into the senior position.

Also consider pairing your protege with others in the organization to enhance specific abilities. A senior marketing manager could share insights on giving effective presentations, for example, or an accountant might explain how to analyze expenses and prepare a department budget.


Meet with your successor on a regular basis to review expectations and provide feedback. Be sure to set measurable goals, such as completing classes in systems planning and personnel management at a local university by the end of the year. This will help him develop skills and provide a method of evaluating whether he is meeting your requirements.

If you don't expect him to assume your role for some time, you may want to provide financial incentives, perks and smaller promotions to recognize accomplishments. This can help keep him motivated in working toward the long-term opportunity.

Grooming a successor can help ensure an easier transition time, whether someone is substituting for you temporarily or becoming the new CIO permanently. Select your protigi carefully and provide adequate training and feedback. You'll have the internal talent in place to keep your IT department functioning appropriately at all times.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at Robert Half Technology.