In the past seven days we have seen two momentous announcements in the world of sport, one local and one international.
Firstly, after a season (not yet complete) that saw Manchester United fall from EPL champions last year to finish (most likely) seventh, win no trophies and miss a lucrative European Champions' League place for next season, the manager (coach) David Moyes, in his first season at Manchester United, was told his services were no longer required.
Then two days later the Australian Football League (AFL) announced that current Deputy CEO, Gillon McLachlan, would be the new CEO effective at the end of next month.
In the case of both Moyes and McLachlan; their respective appointments were championed by the incumbent.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the retiring Manchester United manager at the time Moyes was appointed, was extremely candid and positive when writing in his autobiography about his views on the best person to succeed him:
‘With no prospect of a change in my thinking (with respect to retiring) the discussion (with the Manchester United CEO) turned to who might replace me. There was unanimous agreement - David Moyes was the man.....David would have no trouble embracing our traditions. He was a fine judge of talent and laid on some marvelous talent when he was allowed to sign a better class of player'.
Incumbent AFL CEO, Andrew Demetriou, has never hidden his view that McLachlan was his own choice to replace him and was instrumental in ensuring that McLachlan declined the NRL's offer, two years ago, to be the rugby league competition's new CEO. Although the CEO's job was not one for Demetriou to promise, his view of the capability of any candidate for his role would no doubt count significantly, no matter how much the AFL Commission might deny it (they never attempted to).
It seems highly unlikely that McLachlan will suffer the fate of Moyes as the role of CEO of any sports governing body is much more about long term results than anything that happens within one season, unlike coaching or managing a team where your scoreboard each week is either a win or a loss.
It still raises the question of whether an incumbent should be involved, in any way, in the hiring of their replacement.
Of course the immediate complication is that if a person is promoted and their new responsibilities contain leadership responsibility for their previous position then it would be strange not to have the incumbent (as they were immediately before their promotion) involved in the hiring of their replacement. In this case the incumbent should be involved with the recruitment, although I would suggest that there is at least one other person on the selection panel (a peer of the promoted incumbent) to provide some perspective.
In circumstances where the incumbent is not promoted, then I believe the incumbent should not be involved with the recruitment of their successor.
- The incumbent will, unconsciously, think the best person for the job will be like them. Their natural tendency will be to favour somebody with the background and/or personality they have (eg A CFO who trained and qualified with a ‘Big 4" CA firm is going to be biased in favour of a CFO candidate who is also from a Big 4 firm).
- The challenges of the job may be different. The incumbent may have possessed the appropriate competencies for the job during their tenure but now the required future accomplishments of the job holder call for different competencies which the incumbent may be ill equipped to identify at the depth necessary (eg A CFO may have been responsible for the building of a brand new corporate services team from scratch and now the new CFO may be charged with assessing and implementing a new accounting system.
- Accountability: The most important reason for not including the incumbent in the recruitment process is that they will have no accountability for their successor's results, once they depart. All care, no responsibility is not a good basis in which to be involved in a recruiting process, no matter how well-intentioned the person is. Only including people with ‘skin in the game' is critical when it comes time for the hiring.
I suspect the AFL have had a sound appointment in Gillon McLachlan to be the new CEO however I hope that the role that Andrew Demetriou played in the ultimate decision was very much a bit part, not a starring role. Somehow, I doubt it.