The presidential inauguration is the national ceremony of succession. The office of the President of the United States transitions from one holder to the next. In many cases, the incoming team has some work to do particularly in terms of the learning curve. The incoming folks believe they know what they’re doing because they ran a successful campaign and are generally knowledgeable. Then they see the reality of the work, not the idea of the work.
A company or other organization is not terribly different when it comes to leadership transition. Even if the new person is well-vetted and the most obvious next person for the role, the reality of the job is going to be different than the expectations. Sometimes, the affect is actual change, actual disruption, or actual struggle down the chain of command. More likely, is the perception that change, disruption, or struggle are on the way or are absolutely certain.
The next logical step is to consider people in middle management through the people who do not have supervisory responsibility. When these folks change or are absent, what happens? It is very likely that the level of panic is not the same. There is probably no water cooler discussion about the direction of the company, the vision of the organization, or whether folks will or will not have their jobs after everything settles out.
However, the disruption of daily operations is almost certainly affected in observable ways. Work that is assigned to the missing individual doesn’t get done. If possible, others can step in, but if they’re not verse in it, the quality might suffer and need to be reviewed by the missing individual when they return. Other responsibilities such as meetings might have to be rescheduled. This impacts more people in a ripple effect. Some of this might be unavoidable. However, not one of us in any company or organization can’t be replaced. Perhaps we should plan for it.
Make a succession and substitution plan. Ensure that when an individual will be absent or leave a position, the job requirements are still met. This can be done through regular collaboration and cross-training to ensure that no one person is the only person who knows all details about a particular responsibility. Let us please, consistently, not simply assign work to an individual without appropriate training and compensation.
This approach is not meant to only fill the gap for the day. When looked at from a systems approach, the idea of making sure there is consistency and continuity on a daily basis sets the tone for the long view of the organization. If each day’s surprises are met with scrambling, there is not a full appreciation for the long-run. If each day’s surprises are met with a consistent response which might include an element of making due, it still demonstrates the value of thinking far in advance for the health of the organization and the humans who comprise it.
Why go through all of this? No one is forever. No one’s tomorrow is guaranteed. We don’t have to run our organizations in fear that people won’t show up. We should lead our organizations to thrive no matter which position is vacant for the day, week, or until further notice.