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How to manage senior departures

Matthew Mellor


The exit of a senior manager often signals a period of disruption, drop in team morale and loss of direction. Just ask Thorntons, Tesco or the Labour Party if you are looking for recent high profile examples. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With careful planning, clear communication and a positive attitude, change can be good according to Matthew Mellor, CEO at Armstrong Craven. Here he shares his top tips on how to handle the situation and achieve the best possible outcome

Retain respect

In this digital world, a mishandled exit can have far reaching repercussions for an organisation – meaning maintaining professionalism throughout the process is essential. Individuals leaving on good terms are much more likely to speak positively about their previous employer and help protect the brand. Forward thinking organisations now also realise that the relationship no longer ends with the P45 and we are seeing growing interest in creating alumni networks where previous employees become unofficial ambassadors. Given the shortage of senior talent in many sectors, it is also worth leaving the door open to high performing individuals for a potential return. This can only be achieved with a well managed departure.

Look after the team

A time of change can be unsettling, so take the opportunity to enhance employee engagement.  Show strong leadership, communicate clearly and demonstrate that the business is handling the situation effectively. High visibility of the remaining senior management is key; so spend time with the exiting manager’s teams to provide support, motivation and reassurance.

Learn from it

The decision to leave a senior post is generally not taken lightly but well thought through. The reasons behind it can give an organisation valuable insights into how it is perceived from the inside – both the good and bad. It may also prompt a review of its external reputation. This is why an exit interview, led by someone detached from the immediate reporting lines, should always be part of the process. The resulting feedback can then be used to make necessary improvements and mitigate against unplanned senior departures in the future.

Plan for it

Don’t wait for the inevitable and then recruit reactively. This may solve the immediate problem but could create more issues further down the line. Leadership risk and succession planning should be constantly reviewed as part of the business strategy – but it is something rarely addressed by many leading organisations according to our research. Well planned pipelining of both internal and external talent will allow you to put senior replacements into play quickly and so minimise disruption. Plus, they will be more in line with the future direction of the business than the predecessor. Alter your way of thinking and a change at senior level becomes an opportunity to bring in new talent with fresh energy, skills and experience.

Don’t wait for the inevitable and then recruit reactively. This may solve the immediate problem but could create more issues further down the line. Leadership risk and succession planning should be constantly reviewed as part of the business strategy – but it is something rarely addressed by many leading organisations according to our research. Well planned pipelining of both internal and external talent will allow you to put senior replacements into play quickly and so minimise disruption. Plus, they will be more in line with the future direction of the business than the predecessor. Alter your way of thinking and a change at senior level becomes an opportunity to bring in new talent with fresh energy, skills and experience.

Review the role requirements

Be conscious of the fact that you are recruiting for a role, not replacing a person. So if you don’t have a successor lined up, start from scratch. The business should take a look at what the role needs to deliver now and three to five years ahead. This long-term view – which considers the challenges, development and future direction of the business should form the basis of the brief, rather than simply who is available or the assumption that the replacement should have a similar profile to the departing individual.

Spend time, not money

The impact of a senior move often goes beyond the immediate organisation. In fact, our research shows that it often triggers further executive moves – the so-called ‘butterfly effect’ – and this comes at a price. We reviewed 20 recent, high profile CEO departures and found that 55% of these positions were filled by external candidates – at an estimated recruitment cost to industry of £25m.  So by changing this reactive hiring culture and spending more time planning for departures, organisations can make significant savings thereby reducing negative effects on shareholder investment and return.

Matthew Mellor is CEO for people intelligence consultancy, Armstrong Craven. With offices in the UK and Singapore, the company provides insight, search, pipelining and leadership risk intelligence services to business leaders all over the world.

 

 

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