CXO

Don't fire a manager until you think through the transition

Replacing a key manager is never easy. Here's how to make the decision and start the transition successfully.

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Image: iStock/YinYang

One of the most difficult aspects of leadership is deciding to remove someone from a position. Whether that person is being transitioned to a different role, or being shown the door, you're creating a major upheaval and introducing significant risk to a team that may be struggling to stay ahead of a key initiative. As you consider replacing a manager or a project leader, here are some things to keep in mind.

Might you be the problem?

In many cases, managers are operating under a set of assumptions that may or may not have been articulated to them by their lead. I've seen managers removed for failing to regularly report status to their superiors, who were under the assumption that that same boss absolutely did not want to be bothered with regular status updates.

If the manager is generally competent, or excels in some areas and appears lackluster in others, consider whether you've done a poor job of articulating your broader strategy as well as how you'd like to be kept in the loop and consulted. In particular, if a manager has done an excellent job pursuing the wrong objectives, he or she may not understand your goals, or may have misinterpreted them. Alternatively, you may be out of touch with the team or project, and the manager is actually in the right.

Weigh the disruption to the team

Replacing a manager is a major source of disruption to a team, and the risk of introducing uncertainty and some measure of chaos should be carefully weighed against the benefits you hope to acquire when switching out a manager. Avoid the temptation to grab the nearest warm body in your zeal to remove a poorly performing manager, since you'll likely set yourself up for two or more management changes, further affecting the performance of the team.

Tell the team why

In the worst case, I've seen key managers replaced seemingly overnight, with no explanation from leadership as to why the change was made. Not only does this create uncertainty among the team, but it also misses a wonderful opportunity to articulate how you want the team to perform going forward.

If you replace a manager due to poor communication with customers, and communicate the rationale for the change, everyone on the team will scramble to improve their own communication with customers. If the manager was preventing key employees from performing at their peak, explain to these employees that you're trying to help them to excel, and you'll turbocharge their performance. If the team as a whole is struggling, sacking the captain might get the message across that it's time for everyone to step up his or her performance.

Plan the transition

Unless you're removing a manager for gross misconduct, plan for an effective transition. The manager needs to share knowledge with his or her replacement, and there will be a period of decreased performance caused by everything from the team reorienting to the new leader, to duplicate decision making by the old and new managers.

Watch yourself

After a week or two, review the reasons why you replaced the manager, not only to make sure the new manager is meeting your expectation, but to make sure you've modified any behaviors that were contributing to the previous manager's lack of success. If you've demanded daily updates, but declined every request for a meeting from the new manager, you are setting the team up for another failure.

Summary

Staffing decisions are painful and often avoided until they are absolutely necessary. While the task may be unsavory, taking the time to think through the transition and ensure you've set the larger team up for success will accelerate the benefits we often expect when changing key managers.

About Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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