Organizational Changes – Deciding Against Direct Replacement

This post continues a series that I started on May 29th, discussing the management of some major organizational changes at my company.

The obvious solution, when an employee leaves, is to replace her (or him).  Find someone with comparable skills and experience and transfer them into the role and you’re done.  You’ll need to do some knowledge transfer and probably some training, but the solution is pretty easy.

We considered that approach but, in the end, we decided not to do that.  There were several factors that drove our decision.

First, we didn’t have the ideal internal candidate.  We looked at a number of existing managers and directors in the company (both on Jan’s team and in other departments).  Some were relatively new to management, some weren’t interested in the role, some had only recently moved into their current roles and weren’t ready for another change, and some didn’t have the breadth of experience required.  In the end, we recognized that “direct replacement from within” would not work.

Meanwhile, we wanted to take this opportunity to look into making more significant changes.  Several different functions reported to Jan: Consulting, Managed Services, Customer Training, and Technical Support.  It wasn’t clear that those functions needed to be managed under the same umbrella.  We quickly decided to move the Technical Support team to report into one of our Engineering functions.  We hope that this will allow it to be more closely aligned with the development of the products that receive most of the support requests.

Finally, after making those changes, we weren’t sure exactly what we were looking for in an external candidate.  Did we want a VP, as a member of the Executive Team (as Jan had been)?  Or did we want to permanently divide Jan’s functions, splitting them between our two VPs of Engineering, creating roles managing both Products and Services?

Considering all those factors, we decided to take some time before finalizing the new organization.  The long lead time of Jan’s announcement allowed us to do this – we knew we had about nine months before Jan’s departure.  That gave us time to discuss our long term options with the rest of the Executive Team, with the managers who reported to Jan, and with other key employees across the company.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

When a key employee leaves, don’t immediately assume you should replace that employee directly – consider other options.

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