Why It Makes Sense to Think About Your Replacement From Day 1

Dec 17, 2018

Why It Makes Sense to Think About Your Replacement from Day 1

You’re a few months from the end of your chief of staff rotation and realize you’ve been so heads-down kicking ass and taking names that you haven’t given much thought to what’s next. Or, you’ve given it a lot of thought, already know what you want to do next and have a plan to get there, but your CEO keeps giving you golden handcuffs to stay. There’s a way to handle each of these challenges: start planning your exit from day one. Doing so has a few advantages:

  1. You can groom people from your organization into the role. Especially if your organization values promotion from within or using the CoS role for high potentials, or both, you can start early figuring out who’s not quite a CoS today but could be in a couple years when you’re exiting. By a year into my chief of staff role, I had a list of 2-3 candidates I recommend to my exec and about whom we had periodic discussions of their relative advantages and disadvantages. That gave me time to grab coffee with them, encourage them to think about where their careers are headed and ask if they have considered this role as a part of their trajectory. Also to suggest projects that would give them needed experience or gain them visibility with my exec if they don’t already have it. Don’t set expectations for a specific timeline or that they are next in line for your job, unless they are the #1 candidate in your mind or your exec’s mind or you have reason to believe they might be jumping ship to another organization. Just let them know there’s a potential path here for them. Grooming folks enabled me to also hand over a list of 2-3 sharp folks to my successor, who would be ready to replace him when the time was right.
  2. If you’re not hiring from within, you can plan for sourcing the right external hires. Are there people with the right skill sets working for others? Can you persuade them to join you? Do you need to use an agency or headhunter? Networking to the right people and having the right conversations typically take time to unfold. Waiting until a month from the end of your rotation to begin a 6-month process can be unfulfilling and even awkward.
  3. It helps you position your exec well when you leave.  Whether you’re in one of the 18-36-month rotations or have been in the role longer, many chiefs of staff decide it’s time to move on, but their execs give them golden hand cuffs to stay. The result is a CoS who stays past when the role is still challenging or fulfilling, and a CEO who’s not getting the best out of one her best people. Think a little about the psychology of why your CEO might be reticent to let you go and how you can address that need. For example, execs I’ve talked to are often hesitant to let you go when you’re doing great work, or when they feel like you just hit your stride or the two of you are “clicking.” He just wants the confidence that the CoS you’re leaving him with is just as good as you. Flattering, and challenging. But you’ve got this, because you’ve been working for the past year to groom someone you trust versus waiting until the relationship sours.
  4. It will help ensure you take the time you need to consider what’s next for you. Thinking about or reassessing your values, what kind of work you want to do, what kinds of organizations or leaders you want to work for, or researching who pays well or offers great benefits all takes time. Networking to the right people and unearthing opportunities for which there are no job postings yet takes even more time. Going through the HR process at your next gig? You guessed it, more time. Planning early and revisiting the plan often sets you up for success.

Don’t leave your career to chance. Nobody will take as much care in your transition as you.  If you want your exec to fall out of the chair because he or she is so impressed with your transition plan, let’s work on it together. Email or call today to ask how.

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