Thursday, March 11, 2010

What to do when a good executive (VP Operation) is leaving ?


We/I recently hired a VP Operation (three months ago). Let's call him B. As a young/startup type company, it was the first time a manager was not coming from internal promotion. As such, we (HR, executives) knew that this was a risky operation. However, we ended up taking a long time discussing this possibility with the (then) candidate. Because we already had both a business relationship (we did some project with the candidate, then our client) and a partnership relationship (we build together a very successful city-wide community network) everybody involved was confident that the association would be a success : human fit was excellent, technical people that worked with the candidate were extremely positive and respectful, etc.).

Integration : can do better

Integration was OK but not great. Once again, we are much more used to integrate technical people/engineer/developers type than the exec/manager type and our tools tend to be technical/power user oriented. So my retrospective view on the integration was that it was somehow painful and we should do better next time (ex: provide a Linux thin-client & laptop early on, FF with bookmarks for our systems, visit one or several customers ASAP, visit one or several prospect, meeting with our key suppliers/partners, etc.). So integration was good but could be improved.

Delegation : OK

This was, for me, the big unknown. As one of the founder of Revolution Linux and C.E.O., I ran most of the operations since the inception of the company and well, I was not very clear about what I should delegate and what I should not. My idea was to leave some space and then decide together what was my responsibility and what would become B.'s responsibility.

After one month, things were well set up : Portfolio management, product development and Finance/Administration for B., Sales/Marketing/Communication/Strategy for me. We were in the middle of a financing round so B. has to put lots of efforts and energy on those areas.

Moving full speed : not OK

, with all this define and everybody now ready to change things, I was pretty confident that we were going to full speed in the following months. I was feeling some "holding back" from B. on certain subject. I was then attributing this behavior to the fact that I'was/am very busy and spend most of my time out of the office (hey ! that was the goal after all!) so building our relationship was slower than planned. My reaction was to give more space and confidence proof to B. : this was supposed to demonstrate my confidence in his abilities, skils and define more precisely his area of responsability.

Announce day : feeling ... good !

One day, B. as a seasoned executive asked for a meeting and told me the news in a very professional way : he made his decision and was going to leave. His old job was still open and he was going back to his old position. Already was ready: list of hot projects, task list, plan, etc. We decided about the communication plan and who will be contacted when.

Well, first of all, of course I was surprised !

But I was not necessarily in a bad state of mind (i.e.: angry, etc.) when exiting his office and that's because one of my core value is the following : "I want to work with motivated people, not working to motivate people". So, in my heart, I knew that someone that is not motivated will be a liability for the success of Revolution Linux. The higher the position, the worst effect it can have on all of the teams.

So in a sense, I think that the world would be a better place if everybody was displaying the same courage : knowing when to leave and being able to do so without frustrating anyone is, for me, a proof of respect and courage. I would even add that the sooner you announce it (after you decided!), the better it is for all the parties. Don't wait a day : make your plan and announce it as soon as possible.

As a consequence, I have a lot of respect for B. and his course of actions and I really hope that we will keep a good relationship (even if is no more part of the Linux Revolution ;-).

Immediate reaction

Well, the first thing I did was to move my office back in B.'s office. In the following months, I'm in charge of all the company, not only the Sales/Marketing department and I did not want anyone to have a single doubt about this.

Communication : decide how to communicate and announce this the team (well, not me directly : planned holidays)

Professional todo update : decide what would be my next actions because I was suddenly taking ownership of every of B.'s projects.

Lessons Learned

Emptiness/void point of view : 
  • This can be seen as a failure to integrate a highly skilled individual
  • It can also be seen as a failure to motivate somebody.
  • Time loss (recruitment process, integration, etc.)

Positive point of view :

I really think that focusing on the emptiness is an erroneous view of the world : each individual experienced the world in a unique way. It is not our job to "integrate" or "motivate" people. We can only offer our best and a good platform that will lower the entry barriers and allow individuals to express themselves.

If this environment and platform is not working for them, the sooner it is over the better.

In the process, I've learned a lot more : I asked myself some hard questions (I am still fit for the job, is it my passion, is it in sync with my core values, etc.) and the answer was yes for all of them ! 

During his time with us, B. was able to reform certain processes and bring his own experience to the table and this changing things in a very positive way