Fighting Ill-Fitting Favoritism: Answers

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(Image by Mark Matcho)
(Image by Mark Matcho)

Recap: Hanover Manufacturing CMO Shayla Summers decided to hire an expert marketing scientist to complete her powerhouse data and analytics team. With approval from Founder and CEO Sutton Hanover, Summers launched a search, narrowing the field to three candidates.

Then Hanover told Summers that his son expressed interest in the job. She interviewed him, but he wasn't a good fit and lacked the experience the position required.

Summers explained this to Hanover, but he instructed Summers to draft a plan for coaching his son to get the training and experience he needed to succeed in the role. Concerned that Hanover's son would ruin her team's dynamic and ability to effectively support the company's growth, she debated what to do.

Click here to read the complete challenge.

January winner: Peter Mendelson, CMO, Binder and Binder

The CMO is right. Bringing on the less-qualified son of the CEO in the newly created VP of marketing analytics position will poison her department and cause mass defection from her most valuable team members.

The path of least resistance is to bring in the three highly qualified candidates for another round and make sure the CEO is included. Then, meet one-on-one with the CEO and articulate the qualities that make these candidates fit the new position now better than his son.

If budget allows, offer to bring on his son, as well, in a more junior role with opportunities for growth. Offer to do a coaching plan for a future VP marketing position that extends beyond the more narrow VP of marketing analytics position. This will be better tolerated by the team. The responsibility is then on the CEO's son to sink or swim without disrupting the integrity of Summers' team.

Other responses

➜ Bernie Weiss, principal, The Business Advisory Group

Summers' designer-crafted domain has been invaded...by an unconquerable force. The boss is, after all, the boss. And short of dragging her intact integrity through the resignation door, there's nothing Summers can do to defend her position. She must accept the CEO's son and provide the training and support he needs. If he's brighter than she thinks, her department succeeds and she's in line for an extra measure of gratitude from Hanover. If not, she'll be gone, but later rather than sooner, and with time to discretely search the job market.

Professor R. Philip Giles, Columbia Business School

Any sane head of a family-owned business is concerned about legacy—wanting to pass a solid entity on to his children. At the core is a cadre of trusted employees. But Hanover is blind to the fact that his son isn't qualified and his appointment as VP would be demoralizing. Does Summers really want to work for such a cretan?

Well, she needs and loves her job and the people, and feels responsible. So do what Hanover asked, in spades. Set up a stringent formal training program for Hanover's son, including spending time in each department (usually children who are destined to inherit a company work in various departments to learn the business). Focus on the analytics. Give assignments. Have staff critique the work. Share the assignments with Hanover, who clearly doesn't appreciate the role of analytics.

One of the following outcomes will occur:

1. Junior will realize this isn't for him

2. Dad will realize he made a mistake

3. Junior will show great promise and passion in another area

4. Junior will become VP of marketing analytics no matter what

Whatever the outcome, Summers has shown she's a team player.

Tara Bradley-Foster, marketing communications manager, Mudlick Mail

My recommendation would be to hire Hanover's son and get buy-in from the CEO to staff an outside consultant on a contract basis. The consultant should be vetted for the same qualifications required of the VP of marketing analytics role, as well as the ability to provide the coaching and training necessary to ensure that the CEO's son succeeds as the VP of marketing analytics. This will also give all parties (Summers, Hanover, and his son) the opportunity to see firsthand if the role is a long-term fit, and if the CEO's son has the knowledge, tenacity, and professionalism to help the company meet its goals without falling behind in meeting day-to-day challenges and needs.

This is a win-win-win situation for all:

1. If Hanover's son fails, the company has an alternative (the consultant) to consider and the transition would be easy for the entire team.

2. If his son is successful, Hanover is happy and the relationship dynamic between the CEO and CMO remains positive, which is vital to the success of the company. It also demonstrates a great level of team work and creates an atmosphere of developing employee skills and professionalism, which in turn promotes loyalty.

3. Then Summers is given the opportunity to select a candidate of her choice, maintaining control of the situation. At the C-level, power and leadership is important; if Summers caves in completely to onboarding Hanover's son and he fails, Summers fails, as well. Then she may be viewed as lacking the tenacity to stand her ground, which may put her leadership at risk. Additionally, Summers is not consumed with training and coaching outside of what she'd do if she were hiring her preferred candidate.

Anthony J. TaCito, CEO, TaCito Direct

Summers has no choice. Hanover's son does have the proper education for a foundation to learn the position. The CEO has requested that she come up with a plan for training. This is an important step in the development of any candidate for the position. It will help her clearly define the role of the position, and will establish a roadmap for future candidates. I think a formal training program for the position is essential, the contributions made by all of the departments and players will help both establish what will be needed in the role and ultimately become part of the infrastructure of management's role and expectation description.

Stefanie A. Scott

Sadly, this situation is prevalent. Clearly the CEO wants his son to succeed in his desired career path, but he's not ready for this role. Summers needs to have a frank conversation with Hanover, once again explaining what will happen to the team and the company if his son is granted his wish without the required skills. She should offer an alternative: hire to fill the role as needed with the proper qualifications, which secures the team and its success; and, hire Hanover's son into a newly created executive development program where he does rotations through key roles that would develop into the VP position. The goal would be to have the CEO fund the training and new position, and have the new VP of marketing analytics serve as manager and mentor to the son. By the time the son is ready for this leadership role many things may have changed, including his career goals and the team structure—and in the end the integrity of the team is not compromised.

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