Imagine walking in to work on a quiet Tuesday morning and you notice your R&D manager Julie has requested a meeting with you at 10 am. You’ve got an open-door leadership style and it’s not unusual for your staff to drop in for a quick conversation. Your R&D manager is a bit more structured and likes to schedule these brief updates so a short-notice meeting request gets your attention but is fairly routine.
You’re anticipating hearing how the latest project has encountered an unexpected delay so you spend a few minutes walking the floor in the laboratory to get some insight on the project so you can be prepared to have a rational and intelligent discussion. You’re a bit surprised to hear the project is going well with no major challenges that might threaten the schedule beyond what you already know about. You start to wonder why Julie wanted to meet with you but other more pressing matters demand your attention and 10 am will be here soon enough.
Promptly at 10 am Julie walks in and closes your office door. She rarely does that so immediately you’re thinking there is a personnel issue Julie wants to talk with you about. You know there have been some issues with the software development manager and wonder if that has reached a tipping point. Julie’s not one for small talk and you can see she’s a bit nervous so you’re mentally preparing for bad news, maybe the software development manager quit—which might not be such bad news at all.
As expected, Julie starts with “I’ve got some news I have to share with you.” Attempting to ease the tension you comment, “What, did Joe resign as software development manager? That might not be all that bad Julie. You know we’ve consistently been having problems with his engagement scores.” Julie responds, “No, not Joe. I have decided to take a more senior position with another company and they have asked me to start next month.”
At this point you realize you are totally unprepared for this conversation and before you can even respond Julie says, “I know you probably didn’t expect this but I do believe that Megan, our current Director of Systems Engineering is ready to step up and I recommend you consider her for my replacement. In fact, I’ve already spoken with Bob in HR to let him know that I would be leaving and he is in agreement with my recommendation. He is expecting you to invite him to join us for the rest of this meeting.”
Exploring the Best Solutions for Finding Executive Level Leadership
You’ve always chided your leadership team when they bring you problems and not solutions so even when resigning, Julie heeds your advice. At this point you’re wondering: Can I keep Julie? Where is Julie going; is she going to a competitor? Did she or Bob already approach Megan about the role? You like Megan and she has consistently delivered, but she is totally unprepared for executive level leadership. You’re wondering what Julie is thinking as she should already know that Megan is not ready!
You invite Bob into the conversation and to your dismay, Bob immediately concurs with Julie that Megan is the best candidate. You’ve worked with Bob for many years and respect his views but are stunned by this recommendation. Bob senses your concern and explains that while the ideal solution is for you to assume the interim role as R&D leader in addition to your CEO duties while you search for the ideal candidate, the business has a number of pressing issues that need your attention. In Bob’s opinion, Megan is not the ideal candidate, but she is the best available and this is the best option to ensure your personal objectives are not compromised by having to take on additional responsibilities.
You acknowledge that Bob is right—you are in the process of negotiating the acquisition of a business from another company and you really cannot take on the extra responsibilities. You know Megan is not the right choice but you engage with Bob and Julie to discuss implementation plans, including backfilling Megan’s role, all the while wondering what other options exist; there has to be something better.
Frustration starts to build and although you’re happy for Julie, you’re starting to question her judgement considering she never expressed any dissatisfaction yet she is barely giving you three weeks’ notice. How could she be so unprofessional! Not only Julie’s short notice, your trusted VP of HR seems to have compromised his better judgement under the cover of strategic corporate interests.
In the end you accede to the recommendations of your staff and thank Julie for her service and both Julie and Bob for their efforts to work out a solution in advance of bringing this information to you. All the while you’re thinking you’ll quietly start a search for a new VP of R&D and if at any point Megan fails to meet expectations you’ll replace her. It won’t be your fault if she is an unintended victim of Julie’s departure. You’d rather not be so cruel but you’ve got a business to run and Julie and Bob should have done a better job preparing for leadership transitions.
As Bob and Julie walk out you’re brainstorming with yourself other ideas and you wonder if you could bring in a seasoned manager to temporarily fill the role while you look for a permanent replacement rather than risk sacrificing Megan? You also make a mental note that maybe you should also be looking for another VP of HR as well…