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Hiring Your Replacement

August 27, 2010
by Tim Tolan
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Finding Senior-Level Talent Who Will One Day Step Into Your Shoes is the Most Important Hiring Decision You Can Make
Tim Tolan
Tim Tolan

Making hiring an important decision is the single most important element in building world class technology and HCIT delivery teams. As CIO, you will be competing with multiple market forces in the months and years ahead. This will be challenging at times, but in the end, you can't compromise the basic principle of hiring the right-and the best-talent available.

That includes hiring senior level talent that could one day step into your shoes. It does seem somewhat counterintuitive to think about hiring your replacement, but by doing so you are in effect laying the foundation to pull off both succession planning and business continuity for your organization. I have worked with “C-level” executives that understand the importance of hiring their replacement while others seemed threatened by the thought of having another superstar on the IT team. Let's look at some of the dynamics senior level executives should consider when hiring their replacement or their No. 2 senior IT executive.

Hire Smart People: That means hiring people that are smarter than you. By hiring smart people the organization will perform at a higher level. Key performance indicators begin to rise in the right direction, and you have the ability to dramatically improve service, delivery, and process improvement across the enterprise. New ideas and innovation come from having smart people. This can help you shape and scale the organization to new levels or make dramatic changes and adapt to changes in the market much faster.

Measure Cultural Fit: One of the risks that you run by hiring smart people is that while they possess the brain power you need, they just don't fit with the organization or the culture. This risk can be somewhat mitigated by having a detailed vetting process that uncovers more about the individual you are considering before you make the commitment. This vetting process should include detailed discussions with former employers and asking tough open-ended questions to learn more about the individual. Psychometric testing is another option in your process to learn more about the individual personality to measure fit. Finally, make sure all of the key stakeholders have a chance to meet with the candidate and provide their input.

Let Them Succeed: One of the challenges of hiring your replacement is giving them enough runway to succeed and have the right platform to demonstrate their value. This includes giving them very difficult assignments or projects and some direction-and then stepping aside. Provide support for their projects and keep abreast of their progress, but let them deliver. It matters. Once they have successfully completed the project or assignment, make sure you give them recognition with key members of the senior executive team and the chance to bask in their own glory. This unselfish gesture will go a long way in building loyalty with your No. 2 and increase morale across the entire team.

Lose Your Ego: Surprisingly, this is a much bigger challenge for some executives we work with. They are so concerned that by hiring smart will make them appear inferior, they sabotage the new hires success-or worse, refuse to hire anyone they consider to be a threat to their career or ego. Instead of supporting their new recruit and making sure they succeed, they constantly get in their way or take credit for everything they accomplish. This sort of paranoia and lack of leadership can kill upward career mobility and erode confidence for the entire team and limit any scalability for the whole organization. You have to feel comfortable knowing you have really smart people on your team.

Tim Tolan is senior partner at Sanford Rose Associates Healthcare IT Practice. He can be reached at or at (843) 579-3077 ext. 301. His blog can be found at Healthcare Informatics 2010 September;27(9):64