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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Create A Well Defined Path To Success

If you don’t know where you’re going you’ll end up somewhere else – Yogi Berra


Startups and small enterprises wanting to be agile, often fail to define where it is they want to go. One of the reasons is that “things are changing so quickly and we need to change with them”. While it is true that the markets change much faster than in the past, it is still important to establish where you want to go. If not, you will be bounced around by the markets and never go anywhere.


To start determine where you want to go. Research into what problem the market(s) needs solved and how you are could solve it (them). Select the one that meets you company needs (financial, geographical, capabilities and interest).


Next, determine your plan on how to get to the destination. The plan will include assumptions, it is critical to write down your assumptions, you will not remember them later plus your team will see why decision were made and can help either validate or refute the assumptions early in the planning or execution phases.

When you know your destination and how you are getting there, when the markets do change (and they will), you are then able to assess the new information and then make the required change to the destination or the plan.


Now that you have your destination and plan to get there, write it down and share it with the team. Studies show that when written down and shared plans are more likely to be executed. In addition, your written plan will be used by the team to resolve issues/conflicts, and determine why and when and what changes are necessary.


Everyone on the team

Sharing the plan with the entire team shows where you are taking the team and why. It allows each team member know where they fit into the success of the organization. This is amplified when changes to the plan are necessary, and they will be. People generally do not like change, and part of that discomfort is because they do not have the information on why the change is necessary.



With the plan in hand, the sales team knows what they are selling and to whom. Not just the product as it currently exists, but the product as it is planned to exist. In addition, the sales team will know what they are NOT selling. For SME’s this is important, especially when getting new customers and sales are important. When what you are selling is not well defined, your sales team will spend time chasing sales that you do not want, or can support or are not in the best interest of the company.



The marketing team needs the plan for two important reasons. The first is to ensure the efforts made to market your product and company match what the organization is working to deliver. The second it to monitor the market place and flag issues in the landscape, while gathering additional information on the assumptions to either validate or in-validate them and allow the company to make the required changes.


Product Team

With a well define plan, the product team is able to work through the design and development of the product, ensuring the right products/features are created. It allows the team to ensure they have the right skills sets, or add them, to deliver on the plan. The plan is there to resolve potential conflicts, as both the destination and plan for getting there are defined.



With the destination and plan, for getting there defined it gives you the information needed to get funding. Investors need to know you have thought through both your destination and plan for getting there.


Advisory Board

You put together an advisory board to help you with your company. With your plan, they will know where they can provide the best support. They can also help you ensure you assumptions are valid or not, as well as provide additional information to help you succeed as you follow the laid out path to your destination.


You and your management team

You have established your destination; and how you are going to get there; you have shared the plan with your team. So now, you can sit back and wait for success. WRONG!


Your plan allows you and your team to manage the trip. You will need to ensure the destination and plan are still valid. Using your corporate Key Performance Indicators your will determine you are on track. KPI’s are reviewed regularly (monthly), so that problem trends can be found before problems become so great you will need extraordinary efforts to correct.


On a regular interval, assess your assumptions (included in your plan) and either validate they are still good. If any of the assumptions have been determined not now be invalid, you can determine if the new information requires a change to either the plan or the destination. This same review of the market and any changes that have occurred over the period from the last review should happen at the same time.


With your destination established, your plan on how to get there in the hands of your team, you are well positioned to manage your company now and into the future, arriving at the destination of your choosing.




Please feel free to share and comment.

Marni McVicar is an interim executive supporting companies in operations management and getting products from concept through design and into the customers’ hands.


The Elastic Workforce and Interim Management

The world of work is evolving quickly and as we run the course of COVID-19, there will be profound changes. We are already seeing some trends emerging – more people working from home, the management of virtual teams, less travel, new ways of connecting with customers and employees, more diverse supply chains and ultimately slimmer organizations.

As we get through this, organizations will be reviewing their disaster preparedness plans. It’s no longer acceptable to have a single supplier for a key product component. We will be looking for interchangeable components and more options – across the board, from our suppliers to our people. 

We’ll have more staff that is cross trained to do a variety of roles. We’ll have back-ups identified for all key roles. Successful companies will focus on agility, creating processes and structures that allow them to quickly respond to changes, either to upsize or downsize, to shift, to pivot smoothly with minimal disruption to their income stream. Think of it like an elastic band, with flexibility and strength – it twists, it bends – it holds everything in place.

Now, imagine an elastic workforce with which you’ll have the ability to increase and decrease staff rapidly. There are four components to this strategy:

    • Core workforce of permanent employees for ongoing key area.

    • Pool of temporary labour at the shop floor and junior admin level

    • Selected independent providers/contractors at the specialist level for project work

    • Fractional management to complement your leadership team.

The first three components are intuitive. The fourth, fractional management, has become common in Europe and is now quickly emerging in North America. What is Fractional Management? It’s seasoned managerial expertise provided on a

part time basis, dedicated and focused on your business. A fractional senior manager or executive can bridge the gap between your emerging needs until you need and can afford a full-time senior manager.

These are seasoned managers that work shoulder-to-shoulder with you under your guidance and within your budget to help move your business forward, but at a fraction of a full-time commitment. They can work anywhere from a few days a month to a couple of days a week, depending on the needs of your business, and have the flexibility to adjust their schedule as required. Often, successful companies establish an ongoing relationship with a fractional manager, so they become embedded in your business and culture.


What are the benefits of fractional management?

    • Immediate access to expertise. These are typically senior executives in their
    • field of specialization. As they often work for more than one company, they bring broad knowledge of best practices and current trends.
    •  They provide expertise at a fraction of the cost of a full-time employee, while allowing you to do what you do best – run your business.
    • They can be longer term assets, so they have a stake in your company’s success.

Fractional managers can also be used as peer reviewers, offering professional second opinions to help develop your ideas and strategies. They are often great coaches for junior staff. They can serve as department heads, handling big picture issues, while lower cost staff executes the day to day work.

The bottom line is that fractional managers are experienced staff members whose expertise is available at a fraction of the cost of hiring a fulltime employee. For companies in start-up or growth mode, they can be an immediate accelerator to your growth and credibility.


“I don’t need to have all the answers. I just need to have people who can

give them to me.” – Henry Ford


As you create your new elastic workforce, consider strategically using fractional managers as an alternative to permanent hires or consultants. As a Principal with mgmt2go for over six years, I’ve seen how our fractional management experts have established a reputation for quality and value.