You think you’re planning for the future – BUT…

Sept. 12, 2016

I oversaw deCordova’s museum store for many, many years – and then, a few years ago, I took over as the new Deputy Director for Operations. The Store (and other revenue and operational departments) are under my supervision – and I am incredibly fortunate to have very talented professionals at the helm of each division.

And then of course – change happens….

Many of us see our lives through the lens of work – but life itself contains so many uncontrollable elements that we cannot anticipate. I had a very stable staff in place for some time, and then I was faced with some large-ish gaps and shifting responsibilities. People move on, retire, move away…and the best and safest option is to plan for change. But do we??

In many larger institutions and corporations, succession planning is a necessity. People and positions are often in a state of flux and all businesses operate better with a seamless transition of responsibilities and authority. Smaller institutions can struggle with this because resources can be thin (to say the least!) — but unanticipated shifts in staff can leave serious gaps if you there is no plan in place.

Planning ahead and thinking ahead about succession aren’t always our “go-to” places when we are busy putting out fires on many days. But you may save yourself many FUTURE headaches if you give yourself a few tasks that help you to chart a course in the likely event that staffing changes! And remember – that person moving on may be you….

Consider the following three areas where you can begin to identify potential successors:


If you already have someone in a junior position that you have identified as a potential for growth and promotion, be sure that you take the time to pass on information that YOU use in your position and in your decision-making. We all have such over-filled days, but it will help them in their career path and build a foundation of knowledge. Be sure that your in-house training manuals are available and up-to-date (not always a fun task – but very important….)


Create paths to education – allow for webinars, workshops, conferences where your budget allows. MSA certainly has MANY targeted opportunities in this area! Make the time to inform them about your own process; we are not all natural teachers – but it feels really terrific when you make it happen! It solidifies the bond between you and your employee – and helps to forge a more potent bond between your employee and the institution. That kind of commitment and buy-in helps with retention of employees as well.


Allow decision-making to be part of their training. I was a hopeless micro-manager years ago – and now I delegate many things, which frees me up for other tasks and builds an incredible sense of self-worth in your employee. Praise the successes, correct the problems, and be sure to pass on their successes to YOUR boss: credit where credit is due. Administration should be thrilled that you are taking the initiative to train those who report to you, which improves your profile with your boss.

In some circumstances (and in some institutions,) there may also be qualms about handing over too much knowledge and responsibility when you are ultimately responsible for outcomes. You will need to create your own process for training and guiding these employees so that they fit in with your work culture. I would urge you to consider the process of some form of succession planning – for the betterment of the employees who work for you, for a smoother transition if changes occur, and the improvement of the work culture where we spend SO much of our time. Planning isn’t JUST budgets, events, and product – put people in the mix!

David Duddy, Deputy Director for Operations, deCordova Sculpture Park & Museum

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