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In the past seven days we have seen two momentous announcements in the world of sport, one local and one international.

Firstly, after a season (not yet complete) that saw Manchester United fall from EPL champions last year to finish (most likely) seventh, win no trophies and miss a lucrative European Champions League place for next season, the manager (coach) David Moyes, in his first season at Manchester United, was told his services were no longer required.

Then two days later the Australian Football League (AFL) announced that the current Deputy CEO, Gillon McLachlan, would be the new CEO effective at the end of next month.

In the case of both Moyes and McLachlan; their respective appointments were championed by the incumbent.

Sir Alex Ferguson, the retiring Manchester United manager at the time Moyes was appointed, was extremely candid and positive when writing in his autobiography  about his views on the best person to succeed him:

‘With no prospect of a change in my thinking(with respect to retiring) the discussion (with the Manchester United CEO) turned to who might replace me. There was unanimous agreement – David Moyes was the man…..David would have no trouble embracing our traditions. He was a fine judge of talent and laid on some marvelous talent when he was allowed to sign a better class of player’.

Incumbent AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou, has never hidden his view that McLachlan was his own choice to replace him and was instrumental in ensuring that McLachlan declined the NRL’s offer, two years ago, to be the rugby league competition’s new CEO. Although the CEO’s job was not one for Demetriou to promise, his view of the capability of any candidate for his role would no doubt count significantly, no matter how much the AFL Commission might deny it (they never attempted to).

It seems highly unlikely that McLachlan will suffer the fate of Moyes as the role of CEO of any sports governing body is much more about long term results than anything that happens within one season, unlike coaching or managing a team where your scoreboard each week is either a win or a loss.

It still raises the question of whether an incumbent should be involved, in any way, in the hiring of their replacement.

Of course, the immediate complication is that if a person is promoted and their new responsibilities contain leadership responsibility for their previous position then it would be strange not to have the incumbent (as they were immediately before their promotion) involved in the hiring of their replacement. In this case, the incumbent should be involved with the recruitment, although I would suggest that there is at least one other person on the selection panel (a peer of the promoted incumbent) to provide some perspective.

In circumstances where the incumbent is not promoted, then I believe the incumbent should not be involved with the recruitment of their successor.

Here’s why:

  1. The incumbent will, unconsciously, think the best person for the job will be like them. Their natural tendency will be to favour somebody with the background and/or personality they have (eg A CFO who trained and qualified with a ‘Big 4″ CA firm is going to be biased in favour of a CFO candidate who is also from a Big 4 firm).
  2. The challenges of the job may be different. The incumbent may have possessed the appropriate competencies for the job during their tenure but now the required future accomplishments of the job holder call for different competencies which the incumbent may be ill-equipped to identify at the depth necessary (eg A CFO may have been responsible for the building of a brand new corporate services team from scratch and now the new CFO may be charged with assessing and implementing a new accounting system.
  3. Accountability: The most important reason for not including the incumbent in the recruitment process is that they will have no accountability for their successor’s results, once they depart. All care, no responsibility is not a good basis in which to be involved in a recruiting process, no matter how well-intentioned the person is. Only including people with ‘skin in the game’ is critical when it comes time for the hiring.
I suspect the AFL has made a sound appointment in Gillon McLachlan to be the new CEO however I hope that the role that Andrew Demetriou played in the ultimate decision was very much a bit part, not a starring role; somehow, I doubt it.
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Law Nnaji

Good post Ross.Food for thought. A word of caution though;beware of running foul of the fallacy of hasty generalization!This is usually the danger when using inductive reasoning or logic-when you make broad generalizations from specific observations!Until a proper study is conducted with sufficient sample size to conclusively proof that incumbents' involvement in recruiting their replacements tend to result in wrong hire, I think positing as Ross is suggesting with the screaming title for this post,"Don't involve incumbents in recruiting their replacement, ever" is rather going over the line.Just two examples given and then the conclusion?

Law Nnaji

Well Ross,I'm interested like you on reading any such studies of substance on this topic. Consequently, I'll rather not want to hazard any opinions at this point in the absence of any such known? studies! For sure, no phenomenon exists in the absolutes.I am therefore inclined to cringe at the use of the of the word "ever"!

Jonathan Rice

Dammit Ross I was planning on blogging about the Fergie / Moyes succession planning debacle. You said it better than I would have done though! Nice one…what titanic ego Fergie must possess (although he possibly deserves to more than most)

Law Nnaji

If there was any lesson to be learnt from the specific example of what Jonathan Rice refers to as the "Fergie/Moyes succession debacle" it is already been highlighted by Ross in the post! In my opinion,it may not necessarily because "The incumbent will, unconsciously, think the best person for the job will be like them" as alluded to by Ross in the post but maybe because "The challenges of the job may be different"! Times,circumstances if like, have changed.My take away from the post is that recruiters as well as any hiring manager should pay utmost attention to selection criteria before undertaking any recruitment and selection assignment.Without any scintilla of evidence or credible report to the contrary,it does appear to me that it will be outlandish and a big conjecture to suggest that in this specific example that Sir Alex Fergusson set out to recruit/influence the selection of David Moyes as replacement because he wanted a person like him.Recruiters and Hiring Managers;Beware of your selection criteria.

Law Nnaji

BTW Jonathan Rice, as professionals we have to be temperate in our choice of words.To say "…what titanic ego Fergie must possess.." is in my opinion very rude,presumptuous and uncharitable.The critical questions to ask remain:Was David Moyes necessarily a wrong hire because the then incumbent, Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in his recruitment/selection? Or due maybe to a faulty selection criteria? A detailed post mortem is required before we can come to any definite conclusions on the reason(s) for this sad crash.In my view, a rather cursory assessment based on media or any individual's speculations on the personality of Sir Ferguson as reason for Moyes as wrong hire as coach for Manchester United club is unhelpful. And then to Ross,your reason for your choice of title to this post on the surface might appear expedient, my experience as a former journalist shows that it has the potential to backlash.When your readers begin to identify titles to posts in your blog as just 'attention grabbing gimmick' then you've really got it my friend!Ross,you are writing for the recruiting community-recruiters and hiring managers.These are professionals.Screaming titles or headlines belong to the junk media.Period.

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