Even when you know it’s coming, it is still very difficult. Our whole leadership team knew that once we went live with our EMR, at least one member of the leadership team would leave. What we didn’t know was who and exactly when. We all told each other that we would talk openly about opportunities that were presented to us and that if the opportunity was the best thing for the individual, their family, and their career, that we would do whatever we could to help them achieve their goals.
All that sounds good — until it happens.
It all unfolded so fast, like gifts on Christmas morning. First the call, then the interview, then the offer. Under normal circumstances this wouldn’t be so difficult, but we made the announcement to the team three days into the hospital’s major EMR go-live event. The Director of Application Services submitted his resignation and started to eagerly look forward to his first CIO job. Now what?
There have been positive aspects to this departure and some items that have taught me some valuable career lessons. The positive that has come out of this is that I have been able to spend some time with the team-lead level of management. They are getting great exposure to me and other hospital executives. I am able to coach them through executive sessions and they have been responding very well. Unfortunately, the director who left was not able to identify anyone on his team who could take his spot, so we are searching for a replacement.
Lesson learned here — you never need your network so much as when you are looking to replace a key role. “What was that one guy’s name I met at that conference?” I have asked myself that question far too many times over the last several weeks. LinkedIn is great and so is Twitter, but nothing beats a personal call. When you meet someone at a conference, get their contact information and send a quick email after you get back. Remind them of the meeting and ask if you can stay in touch from time to time. It’s an old lesson that has been learned many times over. I guess it was my turn to learn it!
What about a retained search? I have been called by a few of them but am still trying to rely on my network. This is not a bad strategy, but I advise engaging with search firms long before there is a need so they can begin to understand both the IT and organizational culture. How long should I leave the spot vacant? Well, that depends on the team structure. Bringing someone in fast cannot outweigh the benefits of bringing the right person in. Patience is key. An interim person can be found relatively quickly, allowing time to search for a permanent leader.
What if someone internally applies for the role but is not ready for it? There has to be a frank discussion followed up by a development plan. Be cautious here, you should not own the development plan of any staff member; let them take the initiative. You can help them as much as possible, but you can’t own it. If they are not motivated enough to own their own development plan, they are not motivated enough to lead members of the teams you are responsible for.
Should direct reports of the vacant position participate in the interview process? This is a difficult one. I do not subscribe to this at this level in the organization. I may be in the minority here but I think the decision needs to be viewed in the department as mine; something I own and take responsibility for. Other leaders on the IS team and in the organization are certainly included in the interview process, but not the direct reports. Some decide to conduct a one-hour group interview. While that sounds nice, it could cause problems later on, especially if the team is split on their judgment. The first thing a new leader will do is start the relationship with their direct reports. That should be done fresh across the board with no preconceived notions that a one-hour interview might offer.
Replacing key roles is complex and takes time. I am learning an incredible amount about myself, the team, and the organization through this process. The director who left is a great guy, a great leader, and a personal friend, making it even more difficult. Leveraging relationships is the best strategy to employ while conducting this search, but if you wait until you need to do the search before you establish relationships, it will take that much longer.