News / Periop Café

10 Steps to a Perfect Director of Surgical Services Succession Plan

July 29, 2019


10 Steps to a Perfect Director of Surgical Services Succession Plan

The director of surgical services or director of perioperative services role is critical to the financial stability and efficiency of your hospital.  When a director leaves through retirement or career change, a seamless and well-planned transition to new leadership is necessary.  A strong, actionable succession plan is the key to success and should be developed by the current director. Below are some guidelines and tips to create and maintain an effective director of surgical services succession plan.

1. Define the timeline on your exit

It is necessary to tailor the director of surgical services succession plan to the tenure of the current director. If your retirement or advancement is on the horizon, create the plan with this timeline in mind. If the expectation is to stay many years, this allows for a comprehensive strategy geared for a more gradual transition. Not all exits are planned or predictable. Best practice would be to draft a plan that considers a long-term strategy as well as an emergency short-term contingency.

2. Assess your internal talent

No one knows the abilities, motivations, and leadership potential of current OR staff as well as the director of surgical services. Managing internal hiring and succession within the department is an important component of your job description. Keeping staff at full hire, designating duties to management below you, and encouraging professional development are hallmarks of an effective department head. Chances are you already know of employees qualified to succeed you. However, what often gets overlooked is a formal process to quantify this knowledge when the time comes. Keeping an updated, vetted document of staff will be crucial when advocating for the promotion of one of your subordinates. Be sure to include their skill sets, credentials, strengths, and weaknesses.

3. Train your manager

Be forward-thinking about succession by identifying strong leadership potential and training them to become future directors of surgical services. There are certain advantages to hiring from within including institutional knowledge, cultural fit, loyalty incentives, and a refined transition. There is also a scarcity of top director of surgical services talent on the market and sometimes building your own leadership is ideal. Set realistic expectations and goals. However, don’t let the fear of losing an employee to another facility cause you to delay their training. You are more likely to lose a great up-and-comer due to professional frustration than to training someone and losing them to another facility.

4. Create a living job description

Sure, you have a job description—maybe the same one the hospital used during your hiring process. Hopefully, you updated this with current duties, responsibilities, and processes. But how much help is it for the new hire once they report to work? Creating a living document that illustrates the true realities of the facility, staff, and environment is of great use to an incoming director.

“Barb in procurement is overly cautious about new purchases. Wait until Thursdays when her district boss Helen is around—you can speed things up.”

“Elevator #3 has the back internal door, take that when transporting carts to floor 7.”

“When working evening shift, use Exit 3 off Highway 16 to avoid 10 minutes of traffic.”

Anything that the new hire can read and refer to, ideally before even reporting for their first day, will acclimate them to the true day-to-day environment they’ll be navigating.

5. Look beyond the promotion/hire

Depending on the timeline of the hiring process, the transition period from incumbent to new director could vary widely. You may be able to spend significant time with your successor, but sometimes the outgoing director and incoming hire never meet. A comprehensive report of all ongoing projects is critical to ensure the department stays on track for future growth and improvement.

Project documentation should include a full description of intended outcomes, timelines, and quality milestones. Review this with the new director if possible, but also ensure it is clear and actionable for anyone to read without assistance. In addition, make sure the new director has access to all past employee reviews, equipment records, and other documentation. These steps will assure that initiatives you have spearheaded will continue after you have departed.

6. Why are you leaving?

Let’s face it, most of us have multiple jobs in our lives and only retire from one of them. There were reasons we moved on from each previous facility. In this case, why are YOU leaving this job? In any honest succession plan, attention should be paid to why the role is open to begin with. What cautionary tale, advice, or analysis can you share to prevent the next director from leaving prematurely? This information will be crucial to HR or a search firm when looking for the next recruit.

If your job has limited upward mobility, a tight budget, or a less desirable geography, note these factors as considerations for the next hire. You’ve worked this job and you know the frustrations and challenges. Ironically, your departure might be the wake-up call for upper management to make changes that might have kept you on the job. List red flags to avoid in candidates as well as internal issues to address in order to retain the next hire for many years.

7. Assign a mentor

Your department might run like a well-oiled machine and your successor might be a superstar. However, they will still be new to the job and have much to learn. Identifying who will be their mentor once they start is an important component of a strong director of perioperative services succession plan. Ensuring that the director has a reliable person to help guide them will greatly improve results and guarantee a successful hire.

8. Coordinate with Human Resources

It is easy to make a pie in the sky succession plan that solves for every contingency, but without support from human resources your plan might face a harsh reality check. The plan should include approved salary and internal equity analysis, operating budgets, allowances for search firms and job advertising, and relocation and sign-on estimates. A plan is only as good as the ability to act on it and limitations out of your control are always an obstacle. Make sure you know what you have to work with.

9. Plan for failure

Your succession plan should account for a smooth, successful transition into new leadership. However, the best laid plans often go awry. What happens if your new hire or promotion doesn’t work out? Who will succeed the successor? Have you identified a back-up candidate? Is it time to hire an interim leader or consultant? In any case, don’t let down your guard just because you have a solid replacement lined up. Sometimes new hires—even internal ones—don’t pan out. You want to avoid throwing the plan out the window with a desperate scramble for a quick solution.

10. Include the director of surgical services succession plan in your review

Accountability is key. So is collaboration. If your boss hasn’t requested or read over your succession plan, ask them to make it part of your review. Now you will have a second set of eyes on the information and incentive to keep the plan updated. Discussing the succession plan with your boss validates your effort, encourages good work, and demonstrates strong leadership.

A strong director of surgical services succession plan is best practice and should be part of every director’s responsibilities. By following these guidelines, you greatly increase the odds for a successful transition of leadership.

About the author

As a Client Partner, Kent Van Vleet manages a portfolio of diverse candidates and client searches. With each search, Kent’s focus lies in regional and domain relevant candidate recruitment. He brings more than a decade of business experience from a variety of fields. Some of Kent’s most recent successes include Fredericksburg Ambulatory Surgery Center in Fredericksburg, Virginia, Antelope Valley Hospital in Lancaster, California, and Ridgeview Medical Center in Waconia, Minnesota.

Originally from the mountains of Colorado, he enjoys traveling, playing guitar, skiing, golfing, and enjoying the outdoors with his wife and two children.