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Once upon a time… “I resign”


Recent research from the fast-track headhunting company Executives Online indicates that 35% of the time organisations are ignoring clear indicators that a key Senior Manager is set to leave; while more than 75% of organisations have contingency plans that you could drive a hypothetical bus through.  Relying on the rapid deployment of Interim Executives is becoming part of the norm.  Anne Beitel, Managing Director of Executives Online provides an analysis of the telltale signs organisations should look out for, and reiterates the importance of conducting an audit of the key roles.  By carrying out this audit, organisations can arm themselves with valuable insights into identifying where succession planning is most needed.  

Staff churn across the entire workforce is a fact of business life and most companies will have a recruitment strategy in place or maybe even a talent pool to draw upon, in order to ensure that the gaps can be filled relatively easily.  However, when a Senior Manager or Director leaves unexpectedly the effect can be severe commercially, as well as being demoralising and destabilising for staff. According to our recent ‘Business Exposure’ report 38% of the 102 companies surveyed confirmed that they had faced such a situation in the past year.

 There are telltale signs that an organisation can look out for in order to reduce risk and limit exposure, these include:

  1. The person is no longer willing to work extra hours or be flexible
  2. An increase in reasons not to attend internal management conferences, team events, or even regular operational meetings
  3. Taking half days/full days off at short notice
  4. A sudden noticeable change in attitudes to management instructions/tasks
  5. The person declines new opportunities which otherwise would have been embraced with enthusiasm
  6. Contact with recruitment consultants when there is no apparent business need
  7. The person is less challenging on important issues, i.e. they have given up the fight
  8. Poor recent performance or an unusual revival in performance
  9. LinkedIn or Facebook profiles are updated giving the indication that they are gearing up for job-seeking networking
  10. Secretive behaviour.

It is important that organisations observe these signs and it is equally vital to have various strategies in place. Companies who continuously ensure that succession planning is carried out will identify future potential leaders who are able to fill key management positions.  Whilst some companies that we surveyed appear to have robust systems involving succession plans, where internal replacements for the top three levels of management have been identified, others rely on recruitment solutions such as interim management or consultants as a means to filling positions.   

There is a small minority of organisations whose idea of a plan is simply to have a sufficient notice period in place during which time they expect to address the fallout from a senior employee’s unexpected resignation.  Traditional recruitment can take around six months to find a new senior team member, allow sufficient time for the person to settle in and make sure they are right for the role.  Yet the typical notice period is three months, leaving companies who rely purely on the notice period with a disturbing vacuum. Conducting an audit of the key roles would be an extremely valuable starting point for organisations that are ill-prepared.  This assessment should be an ongoing process and include areas such as: identifying how difficult it is to recruit a certain role; the immediate impact if the role is left vacant and how the particular job role contributes to the organisation’s ability to keep going.    

It is also important to determine whether conventional search is the most effective approach as a recruitment strategy for permanent executives.  Traditional search will usually only be able to deliver a short list of candidates after a couple of months however, a short list of pre-screened, pre-selected candidates can be provided in a matter of weeks. 


Time should also be spent considering the role that interim management can play within the recruitment strategy; interim executives can be in place and operational within a short amount of time. Our report highlights that it can take on average four months to fill an executive vacancy therefore the financial impact of a Director or Senior Manager unexpectedly leaving can run into millions of pounds. Organisations have the opportunity to bridge the gap in their recruitment in a matter of days which will ensure the financial risk highlighted is minimised. 


No organisation wants to lose their good people, but ultimately many will.  That is why at a time when companies are working hard to protect their competitive edge, ideas, brands and reputations, the same level of emphasis must be put on protecting their human capital.  



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