Several years ago, in an organization that has since become worse, the director of a department announced his plans to retire. He’d done very well in his job, partly because of the outstanding work of his deputy director. It was widely assumed within the organization that the deputy would be promoted.
Unfortunately, when the time came for the chief executive officer to make a selection, he passed over the deputy director and picked an outsider who, although capable, was not in the same league as the deputy. People wondered why the CEO had made such a blunder. As time passed and information emerged, several things became clear:
1. The chief executive officer did not know the high caliber of the department. Although the director and the deputy had great reputations among their peers, the CEO had no inkling of their renown nor did he understand that they were regarded as innovators.
2. Operating from this lack of knowledge, the CEO thought the department had become sluggish and that new blood was needed. He picked an outsider because he wanted change. What is shocking is that he had never communicated his desire for change to either the director or the deputy.
3. The director and the deputy, both of whom were modest fellows, had blundered by assuming that their accomplishments were known and understood. They had not done their homework on the CEO's expectations. The deputy went into the selection interview with the lethal idea that the chief wanted continuity and incremental progress.
The new director, after a less than successful run, went on to other things. The deputy got the top job. By then, it seems, both sides had improved their communication on what was achieved, and what was expected.
Michael Wade writes Execupundit.com, an eclectic combination of management advice, observations, and links. A partner with the Phoenix firm of Sanders Wade Rodarte Consulting Inc., he has advised private and public-sector organizations for more than 30 years.