"The old order passeth." In times of old, this is the manner in which English citizens were informed that the former king had died (or been dispatched in treason) and that a successor, usually an heir, had been elevated to the throne. When a comparable event takes place in business, our first inclination is to think of issues in business continuity, of top leadership succession. But the issue is broader, deeper, and more pervasive than machinations in the C-suite.
It will happen sooner or later. You'll have done all the right things, built an "A" team, and backed it up with two-deep talent for the future. Then, the skies will open, dumping any number of things all over your desk.
It doesn't matter whether you're a line supervisor, a mid-manager, a VP with global responsibility, even a CEO. Whatever your role in the supply chain, you are going to have to make tough calls—and more than once—about recruiting, hiring, or promoting your successor (or replacing your loyal wingman).WHERE TO BEGIN - THE OPENING SHOTS
So much to consider, and quickly. One thing we know for sure is based on the principle that people get promoted to their level of incompetence. Basically, the Peter Principle (the brainchild of USC's Laurence Peter) suggests that the best forklift driver may not be the best choice to lead an operation team, or that the best order picker is not necessarily a natural line supervisor in fulfillment. The head of sourcing and procurement is not a slam-dunk to take over full supply chain management leadership, and the North American transportation savant may not be the greatest pick to take charge of global logistics and supply chain management.
We have had this drummed into our heads for decades, but, under stress, we forget—or we feel obliged to somehow reward the folks who have worked like dogs, against all odds, to get the job done.
But we must be prepared for the likelihood that the best forklift operator will find almost any excuse to tool around the DC instead of leading, managing, and developing the staff. The world-class order picker/packer will, with little to no provocation, jump in to bail out a tough wave rather than motivate and measure the crew, or remove performance barriers and improve processes. The manager thrust into a leadership role will continue to make sure that all of the paper clips have been accounted for instead of dealing forthrightly with the essential question of why paper clips are really needed at all.NEXT STEPS?
Or maybe all those possibilities are the right selections. What's important is not what they've done but what the new job requires—skills, experience, intelligence, people capabilities, analytic strengths, problem-solving ability, values, vision, whatever.
If the "natural" candidates don't have the goods, can they acquire what's missing? Hard skills, soft skills, contextual vision. Can you build from within, or must you go outside? Or is there a mix-and-match solution?BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
The core question is what is needed, whatever the position and scope of responsibilities. Skills, talents, experience—sure. But what about intrinsic personal qualities and how those can increase the odds of success?
What were the drivers of the departed's behaviors: his or her motivations, communications abilities and styles, and working and decision-making preferences? Does the replacement need these—or is a change in order to elevate unit and organizational performance?
All too often, organizations fall into the trap of selecting candidates because "they fit our culture" or because "they are just like us." This is a deadly protracted downward path. Truly mature, confident, and self-challenging organizations deliberately seek out diversity in styles, because teams of leaders that are incapable of groupthink generally develop superior programs and solutions.
This vital element is too often ignored in considering how, and with whom, to replace those individuals who are moving on or moving up. Don't be one of those looking for the comfort of the same when the different might be exactly what's called for. But also bear in mind that getting different solely for the sake of difference can lead to a crash of epic consequences.AND THEN?
Going a step further, how important is emotional intelligence (EQ)? How good is the young prince, the king-in-waiting, at understanding the needs and styles of others?
How important is this? It affects the probability of success at every level and in every organizational function.IS TIME ON YOUR SIDE?
Then there's the added complication of timing. Having some time to work with unties your hands a bit. Is the need yesterday, or next year? Can you provide serious training and development to elevate the baseline of essential qualities in an internal candidate? Do you have interim assignments that relate to key elements of the new position's skills and experience?
What are the risks in hoping that the rookie's strengths will outweigh the weaknesses? Does the candidate have the heart and soul needed to work like a rented mule on shoring up the gaps? And the IQ/EQ capacity? Are you willing to bet your career on a known-to-be-imperfect solution?
If there is no time, the case for finding fully qualified outside talent gets stronger. Although there still might be developmental needs—there is likely no perfect candidate—the overall fit could be much better.AND YOUR FINAL ANSWER IS?
Even with all of today's personality assessment tools (think Myers-Briggs et al.), these mission-critical people decisions remain a bit of a crap shoot. So, you've got to be prepared to start all over when the new supervisor doesn't pan out, or the all-star global supply chain VP turns out to have a weakness for slow horses and filling inside straights.