Don’t Panic: Replacing an Executive is an Opportunity, Not an Emergency

Suddenly, the executive you depend on is gone, or about to go. When a key player leaves your organization, you may be under intense pressure to fill the vacancy. What do you need to do to turn the situation around fast?

First, don’t yield to panic. If you are well prepared for these inevitable transitions, you may be able to turn a sudden departure to your advantage.

Prep Work
To respond effectively to this type of event, you need to have two plans in place: a succession plan and a disaster recovery plan.

A succession plan is a strategy you have for preparing and identifying executive-level replacements. A disaster recovery plan is a process you use to implement unexpected successions effectively.

Essential Ingredients
Ideally, the two plans will work together to enable a strong and timely response to an unexpected executive departure. Key components of the plans include?

  • An early-warning system, through observation and records, that signals impending departures
  • Job descriptions and process manuals for all key roles
  • A talent pipeline, both internal and external, of potential top candidates
  • A training and mentoring program for individuals identified as possible successors
  • Continuous tracking of potential external candidates, including valued former employees, highly rated previous interviewees, and passive candidates in your industry
  • An established process for knowledge transfer, including regular activity reports that could quickly be passed to a newcomer
  • A well-honed communication plan that keeps stakeholders informed
  • An understanding at the board level of how the organization’s planned strategic development might affect the shape of the role to be filled
  • A shared view of any revised job description and a timeline for recruiting the replacement

In addition, you should decide whether to use an interim executive while the process unwinds. There are pros and cons for having another internal person or contractor fill in during the hiring process, so you’ll want to look at both options.

On the plus side, an interim executive eases the immediate pressure to find a replacement and is particularly valuable if the organization or the role is undergoing significant change. An interim executive may also provide breathing space and separation from the eventful successor if the person who left was particularly popular and highly regarded.

Additionally, such a transition may allow you to trial a potential successor, though this is not always a good thing if the individual eventually is not selected. And another downside is that you can’t comfortably let a temporary executive fill an outward-facing role that relies on building long-term relationships. Nor should you allow an interim to remain in the position for too long, delaying projects that are on hold and sending the wrong message to inactivity to employees and stakeholders.

A possible alternative might be to temporarily divide the responsibilities of the role among other executives so that the burden of transition does not fall too heavily on the one individual.

Measured Response
Although there might be a sense of urgency to fill in a key role, sound succession, and disaster recovery plans both produce a measured response that gives you time to identify the right hire.

At a senior level, you’re not just looking for a replacement, but also a leader, You don’t need the first warm body you encounter, but a capable individual who demonstrates all the attributes of leadership that are key to your organization’s success.

That is why it’s so important to review the strategic direction of your business before defining the precise role you want to fill. It’s a great opportunity to remodel the job to fit the future shape of the company.

Ready to Serve
Finally, realize that with the right staffing partner, a thorough, thoughtful executive search doesn’t’ have to be a drawn-out process.

Devote your initial response to careful consideration of future requirements for the role, combine that with your recruitment partner’s established access to the best talent, and you can quickly and successfully accomplish your executive search.

Image via dimitriwittmann • Pixabay

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