Don’t involve incumbents in recruiting their replacement, ever

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 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 have had 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.

9 Comments

  1. Law Nnaji on 04/05/2014 at 11:36 pm

    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?

  2. Ross Clennett on 05/05/2014 at 12:09 am

    thanks Law – I would certainly be interested in any studies of substance on this topic. This view is, of course, just my opinion and I am interested to hear the views of my readers as to their own experience and whether they agree or disagree.

  3. Law Nnaji on 05/05/2014 at 1:16 am

    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"!

  4. Ross Clennett on 05/05/2014 at 1:46 am

    Yes, I understand. Blog traffic and comment is more likely when a title is emphatic, hence my choice of the current title, although it's clearly a very debatable point. The 'ever' part is qualified within the blog.

  5. Jonathan Rice on 05/05/2014 at 1:58 am

    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)

  6. Law Nnaji on 05/05/2014 at 9:32 am

    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.

    • Ross Clennett on 05/05/2014 at 11:34 pm

      Law – in his book Ferguson, for some paragraphs (the book has been returned to the library so I can't give you greater specifics), makes direct comparisons between his own background and Moyes's background (both from the same part of Scotland, the families knew each other, had similar values etc) and how these were important factors (in Ferguson's opinion) in Moyes being a good choice to succeed him.

  7. Law Nnaji on 05/05/2014 at 1:10 pm

    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.

    • Ross Clennett on 06/05/2014 at 12:09 am

      Thanks for your feedback, Law. I'll leave it up to my readers to decide whether I am doing myself a disservice with my choice of headlines. I would hope the quality of the blog's content is the key element for readers, rather then the headline.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.