4 min read

Training Day

Training Day
I really hope my replacement doesn't end up killing me. All credit to Warner Bros. Pictures

Training the person who is replacing you can feel a little bit weird, but it's also a pretty awesome opportunity when you think about it.

I mean, when else do you get a chance to set someone else up for success and then walk away with your head held high, knowing that you've done right by the people that rely on you?

I've had to do this sort of thing few times over the course of my career, and I like to think that historically, I've done a pretty good job at it.

Well, at least I hope so, because I'm about to do it again.

This Ain't Checkers

It's pretty normal to accumulate an extensive amount of context when you've been in a role for a while. At that point, you probably have a good handle on all the things that your team is responsible for, along with all of the things that they rely on and all of the things that rely on them.

Classic interconnected domain responsibility model, aka the spiders web.

As a manager, that level of intelligence lets make good decisions rapidly, which is a key factor to keeping the machine running effectively.

Your replacement has none of that context.

So, the first thing you should do is share as many of your delicious secrets as possible.

It's best to start this early, ideally even before your replacement officially assumes their role, because the biggest contributor to knowing things is just plain old time.

The longer someone has to mull things over in their brain (concepts, connections, systems, whatever) the more they are likely to understand them and be able to apply that knowledge on a day-to-day basis.

In this way, training your replacement is no different to onboarding a new member of your team. Start talking to them early and share as much as you can, with appropriate breaks in between sessions so that you don't overload and overwhelm them.

Of course, no matter how early you start, your replacement won't know all the things that you know. That would be impossible, especially if you've been immersed in your space for years.

But every little bit counts.

It's Chess

Domain knowledge is only half the picture for your replacement though.

The other half is people knowledge.

When you've been responsible for a group of people for a long period of time, and if you've been trying at all to connect with them as fellow human beings, you're likely to have accumulated a lot of information about them.

Valuable information.

Information like:

  • What it takes to motivate them
  • What environment they work best in
  • What sort things they have a hard time with
  • Weird in-jokes that no-one else understands
  • How they like to communicate
  • What sort of support they usually need

Sharing that information with your replacement can help them to more quickly become effective in the delicate dance of people management.

But be careful.

The downside of lot of accumulated information about people is that it can also come with opinions about them. You might remember that time someone let you down, but it doesn't mean they haven't changed for the better since.

When you're sharing information about people with your replacement, try to be as objective as possible and aim to not colour their perceptions before they've had a chance to make up their own mind.

You Might Be Able To Shoot Me

With domain and people knowledge out of the way, your replacement should be well equipped to deal with whatever slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that you have historically been dealing with.

But there is one last thing that you need to do, and it's an important one.

Make space for them.

When you've been immersed in a specific area for a while, constantly surrounded by the same group of people, dealing with whatever cards you've been dealt, it can be very easy to just keep doing all of those things without even thinking about it.

If you're training a replacement because you're moving out of the area or organisation than this one is easy. You don't really have a choice, you're not going to be there to muck it up, even if you wanted to.

But if you're just moving into a different role, you need to consciously take a step back and create a vacuum for your replacement to fill.

This is particularly important when it comes to the people management side of things. If you're even remotely competent, you've likely cultivated a lot of meaningful relationships, so people will still come to you for help or guidance or whatever.

I'm not saying you need to ghost people. That would be rude.

But you do need to draw clear lines of responsibility and respect them.

Let your replacement find their feet. Encourage the people that used to be yours to turn to your replacement instead. Support your replacement when that happens so that they can build the relationships that they'll need to be successful.

Basically, try as hard as you can not to get in their way. People management is hard enough as it is without the old manager constantly sticking their nose in and making things more difficult.

But You Can't Kill Me

I'm pretty sure that if you can successfully cover off sharing domain knowledge, giving people context and making space for your replacement, then you'll both be in a good position.

That's how I'm planning to approach this situation anyway.

On a personal note, I'm very much looking forward to being able to step away from at least some of my current responsibilities. The light at the end of the tunnel is so palpably close that it's almost painful.

I've no doubt that I'll be stepping straight into a brand-new set of responsibilities that are probably just as stressful and tiring, because that's how life works.

The ways in which they will be stressful and tiring will be new and unexpected though, which is probably an improvement?

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