The Number 2 Man
Derek faced many problems in discharging his new responsibilities well. Our organisation's performance on productivity and quality as did the morale of the team remained a concern.
Six months after his promotion, a frazzled looking Derek came to see me. After the usual courtesies he placed an envelope in front of me. With apprehension I read the contents of the letter inside. Derek was resigning and wished to be relieved from his job at the earliest. To say I was shocked would be an understatement.
He said he could not handle the pressure.
What? Why? I threw many questions at Derek.
I experienced a mixture of feelings, confusion, betrayal, anger, frustration, and then sadness. I guess I always took the departure of any close member of our team as a personal failure.
My behaviour oscillated. First I tried reasoning with Derek, then outrage, then concern and finally with emotional blackmail. Had we not treated him like family? Had we not been there for him always etc.?
Manufacturing and operations people are normally the least political and are invariably a highly reactive lot. A little incident or a careless remark can trigger an outburst. Maybe it is the extreme pressure that they have to work with so many things all of them critical and and urgent.
Surprisingly Derek sat there resolutely. His mind was made up. I concluded that Derek would leave our organisation no matter what. A week later we formally accepted his resignation.
As was the practice I conducted an exit interview. Whenever an employee left the organisation we would have a chat to learn more about the issues that brought about the separation of the individual from our organisation and extended family. Notes would be recorded for future reference on designing and continuously shaping our Human Resources policies.
Derek ever the gentleman kept dodging the main issue as why he was really leaving. He finally blurted out " It is all your fault. I never wanted to leave but I have to escape or I will go mad". I was flabbergasted. How dare he blame me? However I was curious for I had never encountered such an allegation before and so bluntly put.
He continued, "I was unprepared for this job, you should have given me time and trained me before giving me the promotion. I was happy until you promoted me. The money and power tempted me. I can't handle the pressure of the responsibility. The pressure of the top position and fear of failure is killing me."
Derek was right, it was mainly my failure not his. We over-promoted a good man and give him responsibilities greater than he could handle. He would have a great job had we groomed him for the new job but we had failed.
Succession planning is a very serious matter that should receive great importance from people at the helm of affairs. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Rarely do organisations and leaders prepare their people for assuming greater responsibilities. Lazily they often choose to fill up vacancies from available staff simply because they are conveniently available, and leaders have run out of time to man the position.
Candidates like Derek are always eager for more authority and benefits often jump at the opportunity. Sometimes if lucky the candidate is a good fit, but more often than not the promotion becomes an embarrassing disaster.
Almost everyone desires to be promoted, often believing that life will get better as you rise up the organisation's hierarchy. However every step higher in the organisation makes more demands on the individual and an exponential increase in responsibility. People get bigger ego trips but enjoy it less.
We were all sorry to see Derek leave. On the positive side every setback is an opportunity to learn and improve. Some important lessons were;
- The present is so demanding that we fail to plan for the future. The organisation structure must be designed to cater to current and future needs for implementing the organisations strategic plans.
- The organisation's leadership should have ready at all times a succession plan for each critical position in the team. Even then the best of plans can fail so you need to keep ready plan 'B' in the eventuality that the successor groomed is unable or unavailable to step up to the crease.
- Succession plans will highlight strengths that need to be leveraged and deficiencies in individuals that need to be addressed. This will give illuminate training and development requirements.
- Match the personality, attitudes, skills, knowledge and capabilities that the individual possesses or will acquire by training and development with those that the position or situation demands. Failure to do so will hurt both the people and the organisation.
- Not every good and capable individual in the second in command position is automatically a good leader suited for the top position.
- You may take the horse to the water. But even love, respect and support may not always be enough to get the unwilling horse to drink the water.
People almost always seek the path of least effort. Bosses love to shoot from the hip. Failing to be be proactive, leaders and managers often react rather than respond. Often disastrously mistaking knee jerk reaction as dynamism rather than good leadership.
My recent experiences shows that managements and leaders are increasingly challenged because;
- The volatility in the employees market where demand outstrips supply, employees do not expect to be with the same employer for very long. They jump jobs like riding on a merry-go-round . This happens mainly in organisations that provide little or no challenge, lack dignity for people, stress them unnecessarily and excessively, create immense de-motivating bureaucracies or simply do not pay enough for people to stay for the headache.
- Organisations that cater to the soft side of their key employees expectations of dignity, challenging work, job enrichment, job satisfaction, opportunity to learn and develop have lower attrition rates and also more successful in implementing succession plans