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Succession Planning in Radiation Oncology Administration


By Tammy McCausland


This blog post is adapted from the article “Succession Planning” published in Vol. 33 No. 3 of Radiation Oncology for Administrators.


This past summer Brenda Marie Palo notified her manager of her plans to retire in July 2024. Palo has been a billing operations manager at UC Davis Cancer Center for more than 28 years. Palo’s manager had asked, and Palo always intended, to give plenty of notice.


Succession planning doesn’t always have such a generous timeline, especially when

organizations must replace staff who resign rather than retire. According to a report by the Association for Talent Development, “just 35 percent of organizations have a formalized succession planning process.”1 Organizations plan for vacancies, new roles and retirements, but they may not do enough planning for when people leave positions.


Ralph Gigliotti, assistant vice president, Strategic Programs and director, Office of University Strategy at Rutgers University’s Center for Organizational Leadership says the pandemic, generational pressures and the need to figure out the best way to retain, engage and motivate employees have put greater focus on succession planning. He says, “This convergence of factors makes contemporary leadership especially challenging, but especially critical. We can’t really talk about succession planning without talking more broadly about leadership development and employee development.”

Succession planning Gigliotti says, “is about building a leadership pipeline or talent pool to ensure continuity.” He highlights three important questions to consider:


  1. Who internally may currently possess the competencies and skills to perform these leadership or administrative roles?
  2. Where might the organization need to invest further to ensure employees are best prepared for opportunities in the future?
  3. How does an organization create a culture of engagement and development where employees can see and access future career opportunities internally or within their sector?


Investing in Employees


Employee development is integral to succession planning. “We need to figure out how best to not only recruit these employees, but also how to retain them and keep them happy,” says Gigliotti. The challenge is responding to current needs while forecasting for future needs. Administrators need time and resources to look ahead and forecast what their future needs might be.


It’s essential to plan for the future, says Palo, especially since many seasoned administrators are likely to retire in the next few years. “We have this amazing opportunity to share the wealth of our knowledge with incoming administrators,” she says.


Tim Laugh, director, Cancer Services at Mitchell Memorial Cancer Center, Owensboro Health, says he’s invested in his staff members’ success. In his monthly meetings with all his direct reports, he talks to them about their family life, their career aspirations and any barriers they’ve been facing in the last month. “I want to prepare them to succeed, as I realize not everybody wants to stay in the same job the rest of their life, no matter what their age is,” he says. Laugh meets with staff during budget planning and reviews, and includes them in candidate interviews and other activities that might typically be reserved only for supervisors and managers, so they can gain experience in that setting.


Getting acquainted with new hires to learn about their competencies and what motivates them is important, Gigliotti says. Creating a learning culture and a caring culture, where employees look out for and rely on one another to perform tasks and understand what’s expected of them is also key. “It’s incumbent on the leader or manager to ask their employees the right questions and to identify and remove any impediments so that employees can do their jobs more effectively and meaningfully,” he says. “We also need to continually remind ourselves why our work matters. Administrative leaders can connect employees’ work directly to the organization’s mission. If there’s a clear line of sight, that’s a real hallmark of a more engaged worker.”


Who’s Responsible for Succession Planning


Succession planning, especially for leadership positions, should involve both collaborative and individual efforts, says Laugh. “It’s important to not only prepare for the next person, but the person after that as well,” he says. Administrators should identify the right person to take their place and to help that individual get the knowledge, tools and experience they need for future success. Laugh says he’s always had an opportunity to help train his replacement. Whenever he’s given notice, he’s provided his cell phone number and email so his successor can contact him with any questions. “You can write things down on paper, but I’ve found it’s better to allow them to call,” he says.


Gigliotti says organizations can assist with transitions in several ways:


  1. Create the processes to encourage learning and capture lessons learned from the individual in their last months or weeks on the job.
  2. Capture tacit knowledge through conversations with the outgoing staff member.
  3. Ask the outgoing staff member to document their experience, including relevant memos, lists of key personnel with whom they engage, and current challenges and opportunities.
  4. Have the new hire work with/shadow the outgoing staff member for a month or two so they can get up to speed on what the day-to-day looks like.
  5. Honor and celebrate the outgoing person by recognizing them for their accomplishments because they can, in turn, serve as ambassadors for organizations once they leave.


Conversations can help capture insider knowledge and understanding of the culture and the people within the organization. As Gigliotti explains, “Our organizations rely heavily on relationships, and being able to capture that information in some way from the outgoing person for the person who’s taking on the role after them is really significant.”

Q: How does your organization do succession planning?


1. ATD Research. Succession Planning: Ensuring Continued Excellence. September 2018.


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