5 Ways to Avoid Chaos When You Suddenly Lose a Key Employee.

There can be many reasons for an executive position to suddenly become vacant. Loss to a competitor, strategic removal, retirement, extended sickness, or even a sudden death. But the reason is of less importance than the effect it has on your business. Because, no matter how it came about, you have a crucial vacancy to fill, and the sooner you can fill it the better.


You have several options for replacing a key executive, each with its own pros and cons:

    1. Hire/Promote From Within
    2. Ask Staff to Source Talent From Their Networks
    3. Review Your Resume Bank
    4. Contact An Executive Recruiter
    5. Hire An Interim Executive

Let’s consider each of these in turn and see if one of the options stands out for you.

Hire/Promote From Within

This is the obvious first step, but it isn’t always a viable option. In fact, given that you’re reading this article suggests that you’ve already been down this path and simply don’t have any outstanding internal candidates to fill your vacancy.

None-the-less, filling your vacancy from within is definitely the first thing to consider because it carries several advantages. For instance, your new executive is already familiar with company goals, policies and culture. Relocation costs could be minimal to none. And significant time and expense can be spared that would otherwise be needed in searching and interviewing for an outside executive replacement.

The cons? Well, you may risk “settling” for someone just to avoid the cost and effort of finding the best replacement. And be warned: It’s an easy trap to fall into.

But, if the perfect candidate is already in your midst, then your problem is much easier to solve. It might be someone within the ranks with whom your are already familiar, but, if yours is a larger company, it might be someone you’ve had little or possibly no interaction with. So how might you find such hidden internal talent?

Ask Staff to Source Talent From Their Networks

You may have a very qualified replacement executive within your ranks even without knowing it. But if you have such a star in your company, it’s possible that one of your staff knows who it is – even if you don’t.

So get your staff to provide you with a list of individuals they feel are qualified, and let them include their own names. Tell them to include candidates from within the company and from within their personal networks, too. You might be pleasantly surprised at just how many candidates come to the surface using this strategy.

On the other hand, it might not produce anyone suitable. After all, you’re not just looking for someone to fill your vacancy. You’re looking for an exceptional replacement.

Review Your Resume Bank

You’ve created a great company over the years with a wonderful culture. Word about you has gotten around, and executives from other companies have identified you as an employer they’d like to work for.

Task your HR personnel to sift through the unsolicited resumes you already have on file and get new ads out to make it clear that you are in active search mode for a talented new executive. The resumes on file may be a bit dated, but review them anyway. If there is a gem in there make sure to pursue it. Even if that person is gainfully employed at the moment, he or she may be happy to come and join you.

You can’t feel bad about “stealing” talent from another employer. They’re just as likely to do it to you. In fact, maybe they already have, and that’s why you’re looking at this article  in the first place.

Use an Executive Recruiter to Find Your Talent

Executive recruiters specialize in finding executives for companies just like yours. Such an agency is an obvious option, but for several reasons, it might not be your best or first choice.

If it is an established agency it will have a large pool of candidates, but that’s still no guarantee that any one of them will be suitable. And if they don’t have a truly suitable candidate, it could be some time until they do. This can lead to a serious problem that we refer to as the open drain effect: When a key individual is lost but not quickly replaced, others may follow out of fear that operations – and their job security – may be going down the drain.

So, it is important to find that quality replacement sooner than later, and due to its resources, the recruitment agency is well positioned to identify a good candidate, and likely, more quickly than you could on your own.

But, two big unknowns remain. How long will it take, and how much damage might occur during the time that the situation remains unresolved?

Use an Interim or Fractional Executive or Manager

Interim managers provide full-time help. Fractional managers provide part-time help. In both cases, they are only there as long as you need them, which can be from a few weeks to several months.

But is it a viable option? Absolutely. Your goal is to fill that vacant executive position with a seasoned expert who can come in immediately and, within short order, establish and maintain control of the situation until your other search strategies bear fruit.

The interim option might not find you the perfect replacement, but that’s not it’s function. Going interim is a strategy to maintain control while creating time for you to find the perfect individual.

Some specific advantages of going interim or fractional are:

    • Rapid restoration of a critical role with highly-qualified personnel

    • No long term commitment

    • Staff stabilization and protection against “open drain” effect

The best interim management companies have a deep pool of highly qualified individuals. Many times they are seasoned veterans who have established their expertise over a course of decades, and who now are happy to share that expertise to help companies in a time of crisis.

No one likes to find themselves in a position where they need to fill an executive vacancy, but virtually all businesses are faced with this crisis at one time or another. If you are presently in this position, we hope that the options we’ve discussed here will help advance your efforts.

If one of the options we described here has solved your problem, then we are happy to have been of service. If you feel like you’ve exhausted all your options and are still looking for answers, then we invite you to contact us for further assistance.


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