Some succession planning today will save headaches in the future.

No staff member is irreplaceable, right? What steps have you taken to ensure that is actually true for your council?

Some succession planning today will save headaches in the future.


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By Donna Neilson, Training Consultant, Peak Services

If you won Lotto tonight and decided never to return to work, would your colleagues be able to step into your role in council?  

While you are travelling around Queensland in your shiny new Swagman Motorhome, would your team member – who now wishes she’d accepted your offer to go halves in that QuickPick! – struggle to work out what needs to be done? Some tasks may be able to be delayed for a few days but imagine if something as vital as the payroll was due to be run tomorrow. 

Sometimes we are so competent in our role that nobody questions how we do it. We are left to our own devices to get on with it. In fact, a curious ‘What are you doing? Why are you doing it that way?’ may well be met with suspicion. Why do they want to know? Are they after my job? 

We store so much information in our heads because we know exactly what needs to be done and when. We have a routine that has been in place for years but it’s not in our Outlook calendar, or even in a good, old-fashioned diary. There’s no need for reminders to pop up as we type. 

Good succession planning will enable you to enjoy all the state has to offer, without feeling guilty about the work you left behind for your former teammates. Detailed processes and procedures should be in place to guide Janice and Dennis through your considerable workload – which everybody previously took for granted. 

Ideally, each staff member would have a buddy who has sat with them while the process of completing each task is both demonstrated and explained. We all learn differently, so it’s important that we use auditory, visual and kinaesthetic methods to cement the learning. That buddy will know how to access any resources needed and where to find information in your council’s document management system. They’ll be able to prepare that report, extrapolate the data from the traffic count, organise the community event or ensure that all staff are paid on time. That work instruction will be in writing and filed. 

Perhaps you are aware that one of your team intends to leave their current employment but nobody else in council has the ability to carry out that role. It may be time to upskill other staff to ensure business continuity; an investment in staff training now can avoid that awkward silence when the question is asked ‘Who knows how to do this?’. 

The community has high expectations of councils, with the assumption that services will be delivered continuously and seamlessly. Trying to explain that water won’t come out of your kitchen tap today, as the water treatment plant operator is on annual leave, is not going to cut it.  

Our field staff deserve special mention. In many councils, the ‘outside boys’ have been doing a great job for a long time. They know when an unsealed road needs grading and they also know the rural property where the operator can safely park the grader overnight. They can predict when a bridge is likely to be flooded, given the rainfall figures, and of course, they know who the Rural Fire Brigade Warden is, as well as where to access water in the event of an outbreak. 

All too often, none of this is committed to paper. George has a wealth of knowledge, which he admits he’s never passed on because ‘The young blokes probably aren’t interested – they’ve got the internet and a tablet and can look things up.’ That’s true George but the internet doesn’t have your first-hand experience. 

So, if George or Georgia are nearing retirement age, take the time to have a conversation with them about what they do in the workplace, how and why. Modesty may prevent full disclosure initially but once they realise it’s necessary for the council to run smoothly in their absence, they will happily share. Take copious notes and use a recording device to capture as much information as possible. 

Type up those notes into a meaningful format while they are still fresh in your mind. The sooner you action this, the better your recollection will be. Store these words of wisdom in a place where they are easily found and accessible, using your council’s naming convention. Less experienced staff will thank you.  


To explore the many upskilling training options for your staff or for assistance with succession planning in your council, please visit the Peak Training website or contact Peak Training directly on (07)3000 2148 or email to discuss your requirements. Then George and Georgia can enjoy their retirement free of interruptions. 

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