From hero to zero in the time of a procedure.

This is the story of Bruno. Bruno was Director of Marketing and Operations in a subsidiary of a large international company. Two years ago his boss told him that he was seriously considering retiring. As Bruno was the only one in internal ranks that could aspire to the position of Director of the subsidiary, he prepared to demonstrate the best of his talents. His boss spoke to him in confidence more frequently about his projects and how he was one of the organization’s major assets. Without him, it was goodbye to this entity. Time passed and last year the big boss officially announced his departure to be at the end of the following year. Time passed. The end of the year came, but the big boss seemed to have less inclination to leave. It seemed that his plans of traveling the world and renovating his country home interested him less than before. In addition, it seemed that the division “still needed his expertise and wisdom”. Bruno wasn’t too worried about it but he started raising questions.

To make a long story short, HR management from head office arrived one fine morning to meet candidates. What? CANDIDATES, did you say? “Well, yes, you know HR, Bruno, they have procedures they have to comply with and they want to make sure that we choose the best candidate. But don’t worry, the best candidate is you! Besides, I think I’ll stay on longer than planned to oversee the transition.”

This was all news for Bruno!

Let’s recap – designated as successor, Bruno sank to the rank of internal candidate who will be “benchmarked” against unknown distinguished persons and as a bonus his boss will act as mother-in-law. We can bet that his motivation was down around carpet level.

One fine morning, Bruno was called into the management office to be told that he would be interviewed by a headhunter in charge of the procedure. The following week, he found himself in the recruiter’s office. In the meanwhile, Bruno was asked to reflect on the division’s strategic plan and make business plan proposals for the next three years. A month later, the VP of Human Resources arrived to meet with the candidate finalists. Bruno had had no follow-up or feedback on his document. He tried hard to obtain information through his contacts and attempted to meet with his “mentor” but he had become invisible, either in a meeting or traveling on business. Six weeks later, it was the international big boss’s turn to come and visit. After losing motivation, Bruno regained his energy and tone in developing a new strategic plan. After all, surely he would not have been asked to do this exercise if he were not the man for the job?

After long weeks without news, Bruno became impatient. He asked questions, left messages. No response. Then last week his boss told him behind closed doors that the big announcement would be made shortly. He would be kept informed. He knew but he didn’t want to tell him because “the procedure must be followed”.

Last Friday evening, Bruno had had enough. He caught his boss before leaving and asked for explanations. Has his candidacy been successful? Can he at least have information about the business plan that he submitted to them? The answer fell as a bombshell. “In the end, it’s not going to be you.” The sentence echoed and he caught his breath. The new CEO will be announced next Tuesday. End of story.

For Bruno, it was like a betrayal. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. A desire to furiously hand in his resignation at once. Certainly he was disappointed, but he was also angry. What made the difference? Why was he led to hope so much and for so long?

Listen carefully, I’m not saying that Bruno should have been chosen. What I am questioning is the way in which it happened and the lack of courage by management. We cannot tell an employee that he is someone’s successor and then change our opinion and the rules of the game without preparing him, giving explanations and treating him not as just a candidate but as a person that has always performed his job well for many years. This story is a true story. It is also one in which many executives or professionals have gone from hero to zero in the time of a recruitment procedure.

Over and above the procedure, there are individuals. Let us never hide behind procedures. Respect, trust and management of expectations should always be of higher interest.

Nathalie Francisci,
Board Director, Speaker and Colomnist

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