A role, or seat, in an organization is filled by someone. But that person doesn’t own the seat. The seat is the seat: it’s a conceptual role that exists to make the organization succeed.
When a person who is in the seat excels, adds value, and grows with the organization, they get to keep that seat. They may be offered a different seat, with more responsibility where they can continue to thrive and grow.
But there are times when that does not happen—where the needs of the seat are bigger than what that person can fill.
Every successful company reaches this point. Usually, it’s when the organization is growing so fast that the people can’t keep up and scale their skills with that growth. This is an opportunity, both for the company and for the employee. The CEO/leadership team has to look at that the seat and the person, and ask themselves “is this the best person I can have in this seat?” If the answer is no, there is room to bring on an experienced person to fill the role—someone who can have a dramatic positive impact on the role and the organization.
For the person being replaced, this is hard. But even for him, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If he’s intrinsically talented, he can look up to his new manager and learn from her. It’s all about the mindset and the framing. In a fast-growing company, new opportunities will keep coming up and people who show they are open to learning and growing will be given new, different, and often more responsibility.
On some occasions, it may be time to part ways, and that’s okay too. Organizations work best when people are well suited to their roles. And people work best when they’re positioned to apply their unique skills to the fullest, and thrive.
I encourage CEOs and leadership teams to revisit “seating arrangements” once a year, often combined with an annual review process. When you do this, you should put the organizational needs first. Not only is it your fiduciary duty, it’s also the best way to build the company. People will perform better when they know there’s a yearly appraisal, and the best employees should relish the opportunity to get thoughtful input on their areas of growth. Making these decisions is part of the CEO’s job. When the right people are in the right seats, the organization can sing.
The board can play a role by helping the CEO see their own development areas (often done using annual reviews for the CEO). When the CEO ends up modeling behavior of learning and being open about development areas, it can set the organization up with a culture of lifelong learning.