Big Picture Emerges When Succession Plan is Tested

Dealing with Sudden Loss of Key Talent

Leaders and managers face perhaps their greatest test of their succession plan upon the sudden loss or departure of a key contributor.   As a leader, you will be presented with both opportunities to shine and stumble. 

 Answers are important.  Yet, asking the right questions might be just as necessary and important.

  • How well did the succession plan address this loss? 
  • Were you able to run the operation or service adequately in the short-term until you were able to fully implement the particular plan? 
  • Did circumstances change that were not earlier addressed, which necessitate a new direction? 
  • Might you consider combining or changing functions and/or responsibilities? 
  • Can you fill from within, or do you need to look outside? 
  • Will you keep an open mind to various possibilities?     

How do you respond in the midst of loss and possible confusion?  

In the event of the death of a fellow team member, colleagues will need time to mourn.  Call your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and arrange to have counselors and/or pastoral counselors available.  Memorialize the person in appropriate and meaningful ways.   

What words should be used to describe the process of filling the vacancy?   It is better to say, we are seeking a “successor” rather than a “replacement.”  You will never be able to fully “replace” another human being.  Fellow team members will remember the talents and unique approaches, style, personality and most of all, spirit that the departed brought to the job.  This cannot be replaced.  

What if the opening is created by the sudden resignation of a key team member?  How do others in leadership respond?  Do some treat the one leaving as a traitor?  Even if feelings are hurt, leaders have an opportunity to handle the departure professionally.  One never knows when the arc of life presents an opportunity to mutually benefit from a positive exchange in the future.  At the very least, you will know that you wished someone well with dignity.

Posted on August 12, 2014 .