Rediscovering Redemption

Chronicling the work of Redemption in the lives of Followers and Leaders. Articles, research and meditations from the writings of Dr. Joseph J. Bucci. Get blog updates by following Joe on Twitter @Re_Redemption

Joseph J. Bucci

From Failure to Royalty: Evidence of Redemption in Succession Planning

Michael Leibman, as cited by Rothwell (2011) defines succession planning as, “a means of identifying critical [management] positions;” which provides an organization with “maximum flexibility” for lateral moves as well as for development, to secure the strategic long-term impact of its mission (Rothwell, 2011). An organization consists not only of its buildings and equipment, its financial assets and customer relations – but also of its most critical resources, which are the people who labor for its success; as well as the institutional knowledge they carry with them to the next generation of employees.

With the rise of what has been called the “Great Resignation,” with millions of people switching jobs and industries, taking time out for personal lives or refusing to return to the office, efforts at retention and succession planning have been restricted and in some cases completely flattened (DeSmet, Dowling, Hancock, & Schaninger, 2022). Significant structural corrections to businesses in the past 5 months have since led to major layoffs and a battered workforce: with employees feeling anxious, vulnerable, disengaged and lacking commitment (Sucher, & Westner, 2022). So how does your talent management process look now?

Whiffing on succession planning is not a comfortable mistake for companies to make. The critical nature of leadership succession is something that companies need to get right but often stumble in assembling (Fernández-Aráoz, Nagel, & Green, 2021). Getting this wrong can create greater turnover and impact the perceived value of the organization (Fernández-Aráoz, Nagel, & Green, 2021). Yet planning for succession was noted to be, “like planning for a funeral,” according to one executive (Smerd, 2008). There was evidence presented that in many cases there is an overreliance on CEOs to pick the next leader (Smerd, 2008). This situation does not appear to allow the best candidates to rise to the top, but instead smacks of paternalism (Smerd, 2008).

It is already clear that Leadership responsiveness and inclusivity drives retention; while Leadership’s lack of caring and availability drives people to consider other options in an already volatile labor market (DeSmet, Dowling, Hancock, & Schaninger, 2022). It is hard to plan for the future of your leadership pipeline if the current crop of candidates are uncaring and uninspiring (DeSmet, Dowling, Hancock, & Schaninger, 2022).

One area of development that appears to be lacking in succession planning is this area of redemption and second chances. Is that all I talk about? As the songwriter said, “Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be till I die” (Cowper, 1772).

In your talent management, is there a place to consider assisting employees in overcoming a project failure or professional breakdown; and for its impact on a team or department in the workplace? Talent is too difficult and too costly to secure and hard to replace. Human beings have incredible potential and flourish when nurtured and given care and direction (Blanchard, ZIgarmi and Zigarmi, 1985).  It truly is the manager’s moral responsibility to undertake whole person development, not simply the business-related productivity components (Banks & Stevens, 1997). If people are complete systems, then a lack of productivity at work could be affected by something outside of work, or a failure to meet the standards at work and the multi-layered fallout from such failure. Success at work can also be affected by previous unaddressed anger or bitterness with projects at work, where managers guidance was not present or supportive. 

In one research study on the effects of failure on future career opportunities (Semadeni, Cannella Jr., Fraser, & Lee, 2008), there seemed to be no difference between those talented leaders who stayed with the organization to help weather the business through a financial crisis based on poor oversight or errors in judgment, and those who pulled out prior to the failure by jumping ship and finding a new position (Semadeni, Cannella Jr., Fraser and Lee, 2008). 

The results of the study seemed to suggest that the answer would be to invest in the employee making the costly mistake, and to aid them in recovery: not only recovery of the resources lost or damaged, but also recovery of their own self-esteem and career viability. Why lose that talent to another organization, even with the mistakes made? While the study’s authors acknowledge this, they seem to also contradict their findings by specifically writing in their conclusion that executives who exited prior to the failure fared better overall in their career develop (Semadeni, Cannella Jr., Fraser and Lee, 2008). How ironic: those who stayed with the organization and tried to resolve their problems were more likely to suffer greater disrespect or demotions than those who bailed prior to the failure becoming public knowledge (Semadeni, Cannella Jr., Fraser and Lee, 2008). So much for the rewards of recruiting highly talented individuals. Make a mistake with us and suffer the consequences – or so the research seems to say!

What do people in your organization see and hear when they fail on a project? Certainly, some mistakes cost money, cost customers, and cause embarrassment.  But there might still be room for restoration and redemption.  Author Edgar Schein repeats a famous story about big mistakes and forgiveness in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership (Schein, 2010). The story tells about Tom Watson Jr., who was CEO of the IBM corporation from 1956 through 1971, and how he dealt with a mistake-prone executive in a compassionate and redemptive way. The young man was reported to have make several bad mistakes costing the company several million dollars (Schein, 2010; p. 244). The young executive was directed to Watson’s office, fully expecting to lose his job. As he entered the office, the young man was reported to have said, “I suppose after that set of mistakes you will want to fire me.” Mr. Watson, a proponent of developing people, was reported to have replied, “Not at all, young man, we have just spent a couple of million dollars educating you” (Schein, 2010; p. 244). 

In studying the gospel of Luke, there’s an interesting juxaposition between the lineage of Jesus as noted in Luke’s gospel, the male succession through the bloodline of Mary of all things, and the succession heritage of Jesus as discussed in the gospel of Matthew. Luke follows the legal succession of Joseph, which provides the genealogical evidence of Jesus being the descendant of David, and His legitimacy as the prophesied Messiah. Matthew’s succession story follows the bloodline of Mary, but provocatively includes five very fallible and ostracized women, several who failed miserably but were now included in the succession lineage of Jesus.

The women were extraordinary for their lack of holiness (MacArthur, 2000). There is Tamar, who acted out of desperation but pretended to be a prostitute in order to find security (Szterszky, 2017). She was convincing in her ruse and bore children to her father-in-law. While her actions are not justifiable, she becomes an example of the kind of people that Jesus came to save (Szterszky, 2017), and her heirs would be included in the royal line of succession. Talk about second chances!

There is Rahab, a Gentile who was an actual prostitute, not a faker. Rahab was blessed to see the reality of God’s sovereignty and risked her life to protect two spies. Rahab’s Canaanites heritage meant that she was identified by God to be judged and destroyed (Deut 20:18; Joshua 6:21). Yet she became part of the greatest succession plan in history. This succession story reminds us that as sinners we are at enmity with God (Ephesians 2:1-3; James 4:4), but we can have peace with God and reconciliation through Jesus (Romans 5:1 and v 10). Have you offered second chances to any of your talented but compromised employees?

There is Ruth, a Gentile widow who lost everything. Ruth was a Moabitess, a race of people accursed by God (Phillips, 1991). It was only through her mother-in-law that this pagan found her kinsman-redeemer and was grafted into a Jewish family and into the succession lineage of Messiah. Then there was Bathsheba – mentioned as the ‘wife of Uriah’ in Matthew’s succession – who was an adulteress but compromised by an absolute authority. The Bible description does not suggest that there is agreement or complicity with Bathsheba. It points to David as the instigator and lays the blame on his shoulders (Szterszky, 2017).

David accepted the blame for his failure and his sin, and repented to the prophet Nathan and to God (see Psalm 51). While the first child of their elicit union would die, the second child was blessed by God to become the greatest king of Israel. Solomon’s brightness would fade in the midst of his own compromises and sin. David’s role was to make sure that the kingdom was past on to Solomon, and the preparation for building the Temple was arranged for Solomon to complete this grand task. Our merciful God’s succession plan is always accomplished, and he promises us “a future and a hope” through His divine planning (Jeremiah, 29:11).

Do we judge severely the people who have failed, removing them from consideration for future positions, or do we observe the character of those who stay to clean up their mess? Wouldn’t we rather have people of character in senior leadership, those tested by failure who have now had to work through and resolve problems and take ownership of mistakes? Who better to manage the younger associates through workplace and some maturity challenges? The reward is great loyalty, commitment, and appreciation by those given the second chance.

Finally, there is Mary. Mary was not from an accursed race; nor was she a compromised sinner. But she was one of the least notable people in her community, until God’s succession plan came calling in the form of the angel Gabriel (see Luke Chapter 1). Mary was chosen because of her character, because God doesn’t look at the outward accomplishments or the stature of a person. He looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Luke’s gospel focuses a lot on this teenage girl chosen by God to bear the child that would save sinners (MacArthur, 1999).

As in any succession, a candidate may not perceive themselves to be fully ready. She was given a great assignment, and was obedient to carry it out. She may have known that questions would arise, with a young girl suddenly pregnant and unmarried. The “behind-the-back” criticisms would remain for a long time. But she was set up for succession by these four other women, and she carried the royal blood in her veins (MacArthur, 2000). She accepted the assignment with joy, and praised the God of great promises, who remembers and restores those whose hearts are aligned with His plans.

Self-determined individuals, broken by failure and selfishness, can be restored and useful for future service. All it takes is a visionary leader who sees people as having great potential, who when offered redemption revel in opportunities to succeed. Talented people, tainted by mistakes and failures, can be restored to effectively contributing to an organization. The work of redemption after failure does have challenges; but those who are allowed to try again are highly motivated to to move past their mistakes and offer strong organizational commitment See Change (2022). These five women demonstrate that in succession there can be grace, there can be redemption (MacArthur, 2000). Does your succession planning have opportunities for redemption embedded in it?

References:

Banks, R. J., & Stevens, R. P. (1997). Firing. The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity: An A-To-Z Guide to Following Christ in Every Aspect of Life. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.

Blanchard, K. H., Zigarmi, P., & Zigarmi, D. (1985). Leadership and the one-minute manager: Increasing effectiveness through Situational Leadership. New York: Morrow. 

Cowper, W. (1772). There is a Fountain. Olney Hymns. London: The Religious Tract Society

DeSmet, A.; Dowling, B.; Hancock, B.; and Schaninger, B. (2022, July 13). The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools? New York, NY: McKinsey Quarterly. Retrieved from https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/the-great-attrition-is-making-hiring-harder-are-you-searching-the-right-talent-pools?cid=soc-web.

Fernández-Aráoz, C.; Nagel, G.; and Green, C. (2021, May-June). The high cost of poor succession planning. Harvard Business Review. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2021/05/the-high-cost-of-poor-succession-planning.

MacArthur, J. (1999). Gospel of Luke: Mary’s Praise. Panorama City, CA: Grace To You. Retrieved from https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/42-14/marys-praise.

MacArthur, J. (2000). Gospel of Luke: The Messiah’s Royal Lineage. Panorama City, CA: Grace To You. Retrieved from https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/42-48/the-messiahs-royal-lineage.

Phillips, J. (1991). Introducing People of the Bible (vol 1). Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers.

Rothwell, W.J. (2011) Effective Succession Planning. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Schein, E. H. (2010). Organizational culture and leadership (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

See Change (2022). Second chance hiring is good for business. Here’s why. See change: The Magazine of Social Entrepreneurship [Web Blog]. Retrieved from https://www.seechangemagazine.com/second-chance-hiring-is-good-for-business-heres-why/

Semadeni, M., Cannella Jr., A.A., Fraser, D.R., Lee, D.S. (2008). Fight or flight: Managing stigma in executive careers. Strategic Management Journal, 29(5), 557-567.

Smerd, J. (2008). Workforce Management: Heirs Not Apparent {Web Blog]. New York, NY: Crain’s Communication, Inc.

Sucher, S.J.; & Westner, M.M. (2022, December 8). What companies still get wrong about layoffs. Harvard Business Review. Brighton, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2022/12/what-companies-still-get-wrong-about-layoffs.

Szterszky, S. (2017). The women in Jesus’ genealogy: An Advent reflection. [Web Blog] Langley, BC: Focus on the Family Canada. Retrieved from https://www.focusonthefamily.ca/content/the-women-in-jesus-genealogy-an-advent-reflection.

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Joseph J. Bucci

Biography link below: https://www.regent.edu/faculty/d-b-a-joseph-j-bucci/
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