Succession Planning: Of Bird Dogs and Facility Managers


Sometimes, the mind works in mysterious ways. As I sat back on my couch after a wonderful holiday season, I looked over at my bird dogs: Major, the elder statesman and coach; Samantha the first-string hunter and work horse; and Rutledge, the pup and new recruit to the family. After more than twenty years of chasing birds around the prairies of Kansas and South Dakota, I’ve realized the benefits of succession planning. Having a multi-generational approach in training my hunting dogs has paid dividends through the years. Even the most experienced dog trainers will tell you that having an older, more experienced dog showing the ropes to a new pup can be an immense help. Dogs will just learn things from other dogs easier than if you or I just taught them ourselves.


This made me think about the benefits of succession planning among my many friends in industry that are facility managers. Many are getting a bit “long in the tooth” as they say and don’t have a definitive succession plan in place for their impending retirements. In fact, they have complained about the lack of new recruits that are interested in pursuing this profession. However, I believe attitudes are changing and having a definitive succession plan in place for your firm’s facility management is not only a benefit, it is imperative in today’s highly competitive world.


The typical career path of facilities management (FM) has never been what one would call typical. Facility management is one of those careers that usually stems from starting in different professions where they gain experience and ends up in a facilities management role. The average tenure in facilities management used to be 25-27 years, well beyond the average for most careers. Now, it is more common for younger professionals to have worked at a multitude of different companies to get diverse experiences and have a more well-rounded knowledge of industry best practices.


The facts speak for themselves when it comes to talent issues within the facilities management profession, but the most immediate challenge for any facility owner is that they may have an aging population that will soon be preparing for retirement; leaving a significant experience gap within their organization.


The solution to these challenges is the same as it was for my bird dogs: succession planning. By putting forth the effort and time to develop a succession plan for your facilities management department, you can position it to continue operating smoothly and progressively after your current senior staff retire.


A few concepts that came to mind on how to effectively jump start your succession planning (for your facility managers or your dogs) are as follows:


Implement strategic rotational experiences for younger facilities management staff to broaden their experiences. Exposing these young professionals to different responsibilities gives them on-the-job training and allows them to gain a multitude of experiences, thus broadening their horizons.


Emphasize to employees the importance of continuing education and professional development. With facilities management responsibilities changing rapidly with new developments in energy, technology and sustainability, it is critical that your department stays abreast of industry trends and have the forethought to predict future standards and regulation.

Encourage team members to obtain formal credentials and certifications that are valuable to their careers and to your organization such as:

  • Certified Facility Manager (CFM)

  • Certified Healthcare Facility Manager (CHFM)

  • Facilities Management Administrator (FMA)

  • Facilities Management Professional (FMP)

  • Lean Six Sigma

  • LEED AP relating to facilities

In addition to encouraging formal certifications, a wise facility owner will provide their staff with financial incentives for achieving these certifications. for the extra work that the employee put in – a one-time bonus or salary differentiation is usually the route that most companies take.


Encourage staff to get a facilities management degree, encourage them to do so. Also recruit facilities management graduates from accredited schools to fill your talent pipeline.


Identify technologically savvy employees and ones who are or could be effective team leaders and guide them on a defined career path within your organization. If you don’t have any employees that stand out with those talents, focus on these voids in your succession planning.


Make a conscious effort to have less experienced professionals be mentored by your senior talent, and make it a multi-generational approach if possible. Gaining insights from both senior leadership as well as those in-the-trenches project managers will pay great dividends!


Try to determine what the younger members of your team want to accomplish in their careers. Are they interested in a more traditional approach by staying with your organization long-term and moving up the ranks or are they interested in furthering their career by gaining experience with a multitude of companies to cross-train themselves? By identifying committed employees early on, you can establish a well-defined career path for them.


Demonstrate your commitment to staff and their careers by continually identifying opportunities for professional advancement within your organization.


Encourage younger and less experienced professionals to network and build relationships with others in the industry and become involved in industry-focused organizations.


Offer professionals who are preparing to retire opportunities to consult on a part time basis and be the elder statesman and coaches your organization needs to train the leaders of tomorrow.


By implementing some or all of the above ideas, you will strengthen and build your facilities management department’s skill sets and increase its value to your organization while also properly performing succession planning. And always remember that if you are willing to invest in employees training, education, and career goals, they are likely to give you a much longer commitment.