Opinion: Replacing Your Star Should Not be a Nightmare

A picture of Wendy Sheaffer

You wake up in the middle of the night and panic sets in again. Every time you think you have conquered this anxiety, it sneaks up from that corner you are trying not to look at to remind you about everything looming.

Perhaps that is a bit dramatic. Or is it?

Pat, in administration, is retiring. She gave adequate notice and is willing to stay until you find her replacement. How can you ever replace her?

Any change within the department can be challenging. This is a big one. Pat has been with the company since nearly the beginning. She is a subject-matter expert in just about every area that keeps the dealership running. She has not left yet, but her pending absence fills your waking hours and leaves you pacing the floors.

Every company has its own Pat—the one seemingly irreplaceable employee everyone takes for granted and assumes will always be around. The idea of anyone, even a team of people, stepping into her shoes seems absurd. Soon, someone will need to replace her.

You are in crisis mode, hoping a solution will make itself known. You start thinking about Pat’s wonderful traits and how you can ensure the new hire has them as well. Whether you realize or not, the job tool you need is right in front of you—a personality assessment.

Though other industry leaders talk about personality assessments, you never used them. You thought the assessments were useful only at the hiring stage.

Advocating for an assessment as Pat’s time with the company comes to an end might seem strange. Now, however, is the perfect time to use the tool. The data you gather from Pat’s responses is a crucial investment providing insightful information even long after she’s gone.

Is Pat more of a driven risk-taker or a cautious team player? After a tough day, does she recharge by interacting with her peers or need quiet time to work on her own? Does she prefer to work on many things simultaneously, or does she need to finish a task before tackling the next? Does she focus on the big picture or like diving into every detail?

There are no wrong answers. Each personality trait has strengths and challenges. Together, they help spell out what makes Pat great at her job. Assessing her before she leaves gives you a head start on knowing what to seek
in her replacement.

In addition, understanding Pat’s learning and teaching style will help you find the best candidate to fill the position and get the most out of the time you have left with her.

Assessing the rest of your staff will show how their traits interacted with hers, and each other. From there, you can decide which techniques helped them overcome their job challenges.

As you read through resumes, consider using an assessment to gain insight into applicants’ personalities. Then, review results with a trained analyst to navigate tricky waters as you identify the strongest candidates.

Applicants showing a high drive for personal success may be a sales star but detrimental in a back-office support position. Others seem to lack the perspective and personal insights needed to fill some big shoes.

After the interviews, Yvette is the applicant who appears as the best fit for the team. She has many of Pat’s behavioral markers, and traits complementary to those of other team members, although she seems to be a bit more of a perfectionist. This means, initially, Yvette might ask numerous questions and lack confidence in her decisions, because she inherently needs to perform tasks carefully and according to procedure. As she gains process knowledge and becomes comfortable in her new role, she will appear more confident. Now you have laid the foundation for Yvette to solve problems creatively during unprecedented situations.

Understanding Yvette will help Pat train her as she transitions duties and eases into retirement. Knowing Yvette also will help you understand areas where the two might be too similar and how that might affect their working relationship.

Using Yvette’s assessment to compare her with other team players, you can predict what working relationships will develop and how to position each member to achieve the best results.
Who thrives when interacting with outside clients? Who needs reassurance they are directly benefiting and connecting with their team?

The more you know about your staff, the better you are positioned to prevent potential conflict. When conflict avoidance is not possible, your knowledge can navigate everyone to an equitable resolution. Pairing two people who are both hyper-focused on their own perceived mistakes can result in as many negative interactions as having too many team members with the “Oh well, we’ll figure it out” mentality together. Maintaining diverse personality types within a team is important for its long-term survival. Without an assessment, you are guessing and hoping for the best.

As Yvette grows into her role and new openings occur, the data you gathered from Pat and your team will prove useful in filling those positions. Using this data will help you guide Yvette’s development so she can achieve her career goals. The attention and care you show to your staff are crucial to long-term retention in an uncertain and competitive marketplace.

In a few years, you can expand your knowledge to learn about Yvette’s leadership style. Using the new information, you can help her grow with the company. How does she compare with other leaders she will be working alongside? As she evolves into new roles, the investment you made early on will keep paying dividends.

Someday, hopefully a long time from now, Yvette’s turn to leave will arrive. The solid foundation you have put in place, piece by piece, will ease concerns around her departure and prevent you from having sleepless nights.

Change is always challenging. Pat’s retirement does not have to be a nightmare. Instead, her retirement can be an opportunity for a bright future.

Wendy Sheaffer is Chief Product Officer at The Omnia Group, an employee assessment firm providing the power of behavioral insight to help organizations make successful hires and develop exceptional employees. Wendy is a subject-matter expert in using Omnia’s 8 columns as a tool to make more informed hiring and development decisions and effectively engage staff. She works directly with clients and Omnia staff to provide a deeper understanding of how to use personality data to meet business goals. For more information, visit us at www.OmniaGroup.com.

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