Thursday, June 30, 2011

Succession Planning

As I just about reach the midway point in my current tour of duty, I acknowledge I am having a "Mid-tour Crisis". I assess the progress we have made over the last year and my immediate response is that there is not enough time to fully develop some of the experiments we currently have underway, let alone the ones we want to implement. After an initial panic, I took the following steps:

1) Asked the Admiral for another year so we can weave some of the successful experiments into the culture before departing...He politely declined.

2) Called an impromptu Captain's Call to ask for help in dealing with my crisis...The team committed to specific experiments we would fully develop during the rest of our time together

3) Began some deliberate thought about succession planning

Last Wednesday, a Sailor told me that he was excited about all of the side-projects we have underway, but was growing a bit concerned about what might happen when I leave. Fortunately, the Executive Officer, Senior Enlisted Leader and I have been equally concerned so I was able to tell him what we were doing in the way of succession planning. This is what I had done prior to the query...

1) Consulted the list of Officers who will be considered to take Commander Command and ranked those who would best fit NIOC Pensacola

2) Called the individual at the top of the list to gauge his interest...easy sell

3) Wrote an unsolicited letter of recommendation that I will send to the Command Screen Board at the appropriate time

We are now going through a very similar process with the intent of ensuring the right Senior Chief is chosen to relieve our current Senior Enlisted Leader.

As my last tour of duty was drawing to a close, I had the opportunity to choose my relief and it made all of the difference. I had poured my heart and soul into the job and very much appreciated the opportunity to recommend the officer I felt was best equipped to relieve me. Fortunately, the Community Leader agreed with my recommendation. The result is continued progress through a shared personal philosophy and common vision, as two people collectively lead over a period of 5-6 years.

I have seen it far too many times, being lead down one path only to have the next leader point us in an opposing direction. Recently, I saw a friend spend his time in command creating a culture of openness, collaboration and inclusivity, only to have it completely undone by his relief in short order. The result was yet again stagnation, frustration, and validation that too many leaders choose to shape the team they lead to reflect their personality, instead of waiting to see what type of leader the team needs and be that leader.

I love the team with whom I serve far too much to let that happen. I may be fooling myself into believing I can influence the decision on who I will begrudgingly "hand over the keys" (I would stay forever, given the opportunity), but I would be an even bigger fool not to try. As your time in your current job draws to a close, please consider the type of individual who would thrive in your current position and the type of leader your team needs. Why not prioritize the list of names and recruit them one by one? Then, talk with someone who might be able to influence the decision and lobby on their behalf.

The way we currently place people is rather sterile. We look at pieces of paper that we choose to believe document performance and assess potential. Truth is they do, but the accuracy is suspect and often times the metric of choice is relative seniority amongst peers. Nowhere do we assess personality, personal philosophy or specific leadership attributes, nor do we ask the individuals currently serving in the position for their input. Using a sports analogy, sometimes the best athlete available is not the best fit for the team currently making their draft selection. In our case, sometimes the best person on paper is far from the best person for a given job. I want to help ensure the best Senior Chief and the best Commander for NIOC Pensacola are "drafted" in place of the Senior Chief with the best relationship with the detailer and happens to have the right PRD and the Commander who "looks good on paper". Our community is far too small for us to ignore the intangibles.

All decisions are a result of the data points provided to the decision maker. If we truly care about the outcome, we will make the time to influence the decision by providing additional meaningful data points. The screening board may laugh at the recommendation I wrote and the concept of lobbying on behalf of a peer is likely foreign to far too many. But if one is truly committed to the institution and loyal to the team, the potential for ridicule is of no consequence.

The question and concerns brought to my attention by the interested Sailor are valid. I was glad he cared enough to ask and I am pleased to be a part of a Command Triad that cares enough to have an answer.


  1. Sean, I agree with your thoughts. However, there will be those who will construe this as the "good ole boy network" run amok. Others will denounce this idea as anathema to our screening board process which is "fair."

    I hope the board takes your recommendation to heart. After all, who should know the climate of a command better the the CO?

  2. Thanks for the comment...

    A transparent process removes any misperceptions and validates reality. I believe our current process is fair, but because there is no transparency, it remains subject to questioning. I merely feel compelled to support the current process by providing an additional data point for consideration. As Admiral Harvey has stated, we need to find a way to make 360 degree input part of the screening process. There are too many people who look good on paper and are loved by seniors, yet have trouble working with peers and are not taken seriously by juniors.

    Would be great if my "Peer LOR" was not the only one received by the board. Would also love to see some senior enlisted leaders advocate for our best and brightest CO candidates.

  3. Sir,
    Do you have any feedback now that a successor has been named?

  4. I know that the LOR I wrote was read and considered. Do I believe that it had any affect on the results? No. Should it have? No. Did I create an opportunity to be a part of the process and give others something to think about? I don't know any other way. Would I do it gain in the future? Absolutely. Will I be proud to share the stage with my successor at the COC Ceremony? Absolutely. Am I a strong believer in the process and the result? Without a doubt.