I’m next in line at the grocery store with about 3 people behind me. The lady in front of me has a stack of coupons and is having trouble finding her debit card. Lovely. Then a cashier starting her shift opens in the neighboring aisle and puts on a textbook display of leadership greatness. Here is what she does: she points with an open, palm-up hand to me and says “I can take you here sir”.
Why is this so great? She took charge by clearly and fairly directing her audience. In a lineup of customers, who are strangers to each other, the cashier serves as host, guiding her guests to the rules she executes. If she does not hand-point, the person behind me rushes over to take my spot, potentially creating conflict in the store. By actively directing her guests, she prevents the consequences of “people hoping”.
Similarly, great leaders prevent people hoping. They create clear a continuum of people in charge to seamlessly take care of the operation, one leader after the other. In other words, they are invested in succession planning. They map out who they have in their ecosystem, study the dynamics between them and continuously monitor of each of their strengths, weaknesses, career goals and interests. They avoid people hopping, jumping from one leader to another, where each short-term leader is only given short time to stabilize, develop and execute properly. This culture leads to people acting in self-preservation mode, making quick fixes to quickly prove themselves instead of deferring immediate gratification to invest in short-term pain for the sake of long-term gain-type projects.
For example, Carrie, a pharmacy assistant resigns, leaving us an opening for a pharmacy assistant. Instead of automatically replacing her with another pharmacy assistant, the leader understood our succession plan where Lisa had been training as a Front Shop Clerk internally understood to be someday promoted to a Pharmacy Assistant. Lisa needed more time to develop her skills but she was well on her way. The easy-answer would have been to hire someone with Carrie-like skills to provide immediate resolution. But where would this leave Lisa? Would she feel overlooked? Would she stick around if she felt slighted? And if so, where would we be without Lisa! What are the chances that the Carrie-like replacement would work out anyway? That replacement knows less about our culture, must go through a storming period that Lisa does not and we cannot be sure that the replacement sticks around long enough anyway. Going with Lisa instills a culture that demonstrates hard, consistent work paired with loyalty results in promotion, sustainability and longevity.
The decision: we promoted Lisa first, then hired a new Front Shop Clerk named Mark to back-fill her.
The outcome: Mark remained behind Lisa in seniority and they worked brilliantly together. They quickly became allies, learning from each other and one year later, Mark was promoted to Pharmacy Assistant. Having two Pharmacy Assistants well-versed in both the front shop and the dispensary gave the team tremendous power, flexibility, vacation coverage and ultimately efficiency. This efficiency enabled prescription volume growth without having to hire another person and the business had a cushion of cash flow for emergencies and was able to re-invest back into patient care programs that further grew the business and differentiated it from its competitors. That staff was encouraged by the success and team dynamics synergized with relationship building potential for its customers.
Side-effects of not people hoping:
a clear understating of culture
a delay in immediate gratification
a keen ability to teach.
Do you understand your succession plan?
Commit to hiring internally and constantly network for your future entry-level people.
PS: that open hand, palm-up point is a fantastic way of empathetically identifying someone in a crowd without centering them out uncomfortably. Use it during a keynote speech, ushering people, in a classroom or any social setting that desires courtesy.