Sunday, April 08, 2007

Everyone is Replaceable

My company had a management shift recently when one of the executives decided to depart. The stock market cut through all the discussion about the departure and declared loud and clear that everyone is replaceable; the stock currently trades above the price when the departure was first announced.

Beyond all of the discussion, though, is the question of what any organization has to replace when a key personality leaves. Senior executives are usually one of three things:
  1. "leaders" (they set the vision)
  2. "managers" (they make sure things get done)
  3. "evangelist" (they sell the company to customers, the markets and employers ... beyond the traditional definition of sales).
It is the rare individual who successfully embodies all three.

Which of the three is the hardest to replace? My initial answer was "leader". I reconsidered after reading the book "Halsey's Typhoon", by Drury and Clavin, which detailed how Admiral Halsey took his Third Fleet through a typhoon in WWII, losing close to 800 men. He clearly made mistakes, but wasn't relieved of command. Why? Well, it's not because he was the only "leader"; there were plenty of oversized personalities setting vision. It's not because he was the only "manager"; Admiral Spruance was arguably a more effective manager. I believe he wasn't relieved because he was the greatest "evangelist" of the US effort to both his sailors and the American public.

So, how does this translate into a lesson for the organization? As much as you have to have succession plans in place for leaders and managers, companies need to carefully monitor who becomes their chief evangelist as well. Having too much tied to one person doesn't mean they aren't replaceable, but the transition is easier when the responsibility is spread.