IT Employment

Losing a key team member – Loss and opportunity

Losing a superstar is never easy. Last week, Scott Lowe's right-hand person submitted his resignation. Moving fast and in partnership with others at Westminster College, he's well on the way to getting a new face into this critical position.

If you've been in a management position for any period of time, you probably have identified one or two employees you would absolutely hate to lose. And, you've probably gotten to a point at which, when an employee comes into your office to have the "I'm leaving" chat, you know what's coming. When said employee is one of your superstars, you get that empty feeling in your gut and think to yourself "Oh, boy..."

Although the scenario was slightly different for me this week (instead of meeting in my office, we ended up meeting in the campus dining hall after putting out fires), I went through the same thing.

A little background: When I arrived at Westminster College in October of 2006, one of the first things I did was to sit and meet individually with each of my seven employees. When I got to the College's database administrator, I hit gold. Although everyone contributed in his or her own way, the DBA and I were of an almost identical mindset when it came to how IT should be run, what services we should be offering, and much more. Over time, I discovered that besides seeing eye-to-eye with me on a lot of things, he was also one of the most conscientious people I'd ever worked with. When faced with a task, it just got done. It can be hard to get that kind of help!

A little under a year later, I promoted him to Associate Director of IT so he could be my right-hand person. I had a similar arrangement with one of my employees at my previous position and she made all the difference in the world. These kinds of people make life so much easier-no longer do I have to worry about fires when I'm away. I know that things will be handled in the way that I expect them to be handled. Further, I don't have to handle every management detail on my own; I have someone to whom I can delegate some of the load. And finally, with an arrangement of this type, the College, should it choose to do so, has someone that, upon my departure, can instantly fill my shoes. I'm a big believer in succession planning. Of course, after I'm gone, the institution will do anything it wants, but having someone teed up just makes sense.

So, Thursday afternoon, toward the end of the day, my week went to hell. My Associate Director told me that he has landed his dream job and that, as much as he likes worked at Westminster, he can't say no to this opportunity. Flashing through my mind were a number of things; some were purely selfish ("Who am I going to talk to about stuff now?") and some were professional ("Who is going to get the new campus lock system integrated with our ERP?").

Classes begin toward the end of next month, meaning that the next few weeks will be insane... even more so now. What's my plan? Here's a look:

  • I spent Thursday evening evaluating my department's structure. Each time someone leaves, I feel it's important to make sure that refilling the position is really the right path.
  • I spent Friday morning in concert with the incumbent rewriting the position's job description to make sure it accurately reflected the needs. It was somewhat out of date and needed attention. In the job description, I also wrote advertisement text for the HR people to make it easier for them to post ads for the job.
  • On Friday, I worked with HR to make sure that the job would be posted in the papers this weekend. Our HR person worked some magic and met all of the deadlines. The position made all of the papers as well as a couple of online job sites. I also posted the position announcement on a listserv dedicated to our ERP.
  • I contacted a number of people on campus who have a major stake in the work handled by the person in this position. These people agreed to serve on a selection committee that will have significant input into the hiring decision.
  • This weekend, I started to change project plans and timelines and reassign some duties to others in the department. Ironically, the person to whom much of the work will fall replaced my Associate Director when he left his last position, too. A year ago, she too left that organization and came to work for Westminster.
  • I made the decision to hire a Data Systems Manager rather than an Associate Director. In my small organization, the Associate Director role is not tied to a position, but to a person. At present, I don't have anyone else that can act in this capacity. Over time, I will identify someone and begin the grooming process anew.

Although CIOs in large organizations may disagree with me, I believe that the loss of a key employee is pretty intense. When one person leaves in my eight-person department, I lose 12% of my workforce until a replacement comes on board.

All that said, as good as this guy is, we now have the opportunity to find someone that may be even better! Westminster College is making huge changes to how we operate with many of our changes dependent on IT. During our search, we might be lucky enough to find that person that can help us achieve these new goals.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

7 comments
john.decoville
john.decoville

Wow! Am I glad I am not working for you if I am not that "Superstar"! The two of you being in the same mind-set gives you total comfort-zone and a "bubble" of impenetrability to the other employees. You were playing favorites. And you did what so many humans do: Really search for and merge with a "Clone". That means others feel left out. That means you didn't get meaningful feedback from people that might make you just a bit uncomfortable! Being "cock-sure" of yourself can be compared to the great blunders of history such as Hitler saying that the Soviet-Union was so, "rotten, one kick to the door and the whole structure will collapse." Clone-Mergers are one of human-kind's big failures. You get away with it as long as there is not a major crisis. I think it is time for a full-scale audit of your department! Clone-mergers also hide things well. The big Loser is Westminster College!

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

An excuse for a negative post. Go back and read the article again. He says "When said employee is [u]one[/u] of your superstars..." (my emphasis). This implies multiple superstars, invalidating much of your argument and making your post essentially irrelevant. Glad I'm not working with you! edit: spelling

Scott Lowe
Scott Lowe

Quite frankly, I consider a number of people on my staff to be superstars (and they truly are). This person simply happened to rise to the top--further, one of the reasons that he was promoted was because his original career goal was the CIO chair. We're actually quite different in many ways, but do have similar views on how to manage an IT organization. I will be the first to say that I'm not a perfect manager, but not nearly as incompetent as implied here.

brent.harmon
brent.harmon

When looking at my employees, I start by evaluating the underlying personalities of each individual. Why? Because some employees can "fake it" at times to impress the boss or schmooze, but in times of stress, this underlying personality will surface. Once I understand each personality, I begin to assess my strengths and my weaknesses and how I need to communicate to these individuals. What I discovered as a result of this activity is that my "main superstar" was the exact opposite of me in terms of personality. That means that my weaknesses are his strengths and vice versa. Without understanding his personality, I might have been inclined to think he doesn't listen to me, or he fails to make a decision because of whatever reason. But, because I understand his personality, he and I are able to collaborate on important decisions and strategize more effectively. FYI - I had my team take a free personality profile at www.kingdomality.com. There is also an accompanying book that helps explain all of the personality types (roles) and how they interrelate. I would recommend this as a starting point to a new manager, or to anyone taking over a new team or new personnel.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I was a little crabby that day too! :D Edit: spelling

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