1. Nugent, Katherine E. RN, PhD

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Succession planning facilitates the identification of people who can be expected, after development, to meet the needs of the organization.1 Today, challenges exist for the successful development and retention of skilled nurses, as well as being able to attract new nurses. Let's take a closer look.


Challenges to successful succession planning

It's predicted that in 2020 there will be a shortage of 340,000 nurses.2 Based on these data, it's further predicted that this number will increase three times over the next 13 years. The nursing shortage is confounded by the fact that educational programs of nursing are reporting a shortage of nursing faculty, creating a barrier to increasing enrollment in nursing programs. Also, between 2011 and 2020, 55% of the nurses currently practicing will retire.3 This projection forecasts the loss of experienced nurses, many of whom are recognized leaders in nursing practice, education, and research.


Another issue is associated with the attrition of nurses in the workplace. Recent data reflect that the average length of stay at any one place of employment is 2 years, and a 35% attrition rate exists for graduates during their first year of employment.4 Also, the data report that 25% of all new graduate RNs will work two to three different jobs within the first 6 to 8 months of employment after graduation.


Leadership succession planning requires that organizations have a clear understanding of what's valued in leaders, what's expected, and how that expectation can be translated into performance.5 Significant changes, such as the demographics of healthcare providers, technological advancement, new models of delivery of patient care, and new models of payment of care, have occurred in the workplace, making the environment more complex and chaotic. In addition, a 2001 study reported that nurses rated quality of nursing care on their units as inadequate because of a larger patient workload with higher acuity ratings.6 These changes create an organizational culture of instability that pulls an organization into disequilibrium. Components of organizational culture, such as shared values, beliefs, meanings, and understanding, become blurred in a chaotic environment, resulting in the inability to establish patterns of understanding and meaningful behavior that assist in coping with the situation.7 This situation of chaos creates a bifurcation or "fork in the road," which leads the organization to a different future. The profession of nursing is at that fork in the road: The need for succession planning is now critical.


Assess and strategize

Succession planning begins with the assessment of future leadership needs within the organization. In the past, this planning has focused on top-level or executive leadership positions. Approaches to leadership succession planning should be flexible and fit the needs of the organization. A successful plan will incorporate principles of both recruitment and retention. It should include an assessment of individuals currently in the organization in terms of their leadership capabilities or potential for moving into leadership positions.8 This process is also known as establishing a "pipeline."


Consider a five-stage organizational succession model that emphasizes both planning and development.9 This model focuses on the development of employees who demonstrate leadership potential, as well as the identification of top executive or linchpin positions required for successful long-term performance of the organization. It includes a transparent plan that allows current employees to know what positions of leadership are available and what competencies and skills are required to obtain the position. This transparency enables the preparation and development of employees, as well as recruitment of new talent. Inherent in the process is a systematic evaluation plan that measures succession progress. The overall goal is for the organization to move away from a replacement model of succession to one that has a pipeline of future leaders. The key to this model is ensuring that the process remains updated and flexible in order to be responsive and relevant in a rapidly changing environment.


Existing and predicted trends in nursing emphasize that future leadership will transcend organizational positions. Leadership will be characterized by values and behaviors of mentorship, collaboration, and empowerment. Organizational members are seen as colleagues, partners, learners, and team members. Each nurse must assume accountability for passing on the spirit, practice, and values of nursing. This style of leadership focuses on being a person of influence.10 A person of influence is one who models, mentors, and motivates others while multiplying leaders, thus passing the torch to preserve the future. How does one become a person of influence? The answer is having a commitment to being involved in the profession of nursing and a developer of other nurses. A person of influence must model the values, attributes, and principles of nursing practice and vision of the future. She models passion and dedication for the practice of nursing through behavior and attitudes that reflect a philosophy of wanting to be successful, as well as wanting others to be successful.


Mentoring is also a powerful style of leadership that engenders the spirit of passing the torch. A mentor plays an essential role in the professional socialization and personal and career development of another. The mentoring dyad creates a synergic approach to transforming a chaotic work environment into one that's empowering, innovative, and nurturing. Willingness to share knowledge and experience through "telling your story" builds confidence and affirmation. A culture of mentorship positively impacts retention and promotes leadership potential and development.11


Consider accepting the following challenges.


* Be a leader who attracts other leaders.


* Be known as a leader who wants to be succeeded.


* Make a commitment to be vulnerable and open to others.


* Allow others to see the risks you take and the consequences.


* Focus on the strengths of others and share accomplishments and decision-making opportunities.


* Empower your colleagues.


* Invest time in the development of colleagues.


* Share your story.


* Make a conscious effort to acquire knowledge and experience in leadership situations.


* Seek out opportunities that develop new skills and competencies.


* Build and maintain a strong network.



Be a person of influence

The need for succession planning in nursing can't be overstated. Although both formal and informal methods of leadership development and succession should be utilized by organizations, emphasis needs to be placed on the expectation that every nurse in practice, research, and education be a person of influence.




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