What happens when key senior management figures leave? How God must be feeling after the resignation of the Pope

If you’re a business owner, or hold a senior management position, you understand the devastating impact of losing key, senior employees. Those on whom you rely day in and day out, those who make your days less stressful. When the going is tough, the ones who are working back late, just as dedicated as you. Sure they’re are hard to find, but we all have them, or have had them, or are currently looking for their replacement.

So how will God be feeling on the news of the Pope’s resignation this week, (I wonder what his redundancy package would be?). We rely on senior staff to carry out our missions, provide services and meet our organisation’s goals, so we need to think about what would happen to those services or our ability to fulfill our mission if a key staff member left.

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Workplace trends

Have you or your organisation thought seriously about succession planning, or are you hoping they will have the stamina to be able to work until they’re 85 years, even the POPE is struggling at that age! Another reason to focus on succession planning is the changing realities of workplaces. The impending retirement of the baby boomers is expected to have a major impact on workforce capacity. Teresa Howe in “Succession Planning and Management” identified other emerging truths about the workforce in Canada, however these trends are being witnessed worldwide:

    • Vacancies in senior or key positions are occurring in numerous organisations simultaneously and demographics indicate there are statistically fewer people available to fill them
    • Baby boomer retirements are on the rise just at the time when the economy is growing and increasing the demand for senior management expertise
    • There is no emerging group of potential employees on the horizon as in past generations (i.e. baby boomers, women entering the workforce, large waves of immigration)
    • Many organisations eliminated middle manager positions during restructuring in the 1980s and 1990s and no longer have this group as a source to fill senior level vacancies
    • Younger managers interested in moving up do not have the skills and experience required because they have not been adequately mentored. Middle managers, who would normally perform this type of coaching role, were eliminated.

How to manage the transition period

How do business owners, senior management or boards cope with the sudden loss of key figures in their business? Here are my pointers for making the transition period that little less traumatic.

1. Ensure you keep a strong relationship with your key players. Take a vested interest in their lives, and don’t just ‘pretend’ to, actually keep tabs of birthdays, anniversary dates, what is happening in their lives. If your key players feel a close connection with you, they are less likely to be poached from competitors, and even if they are, there more likely to tell you about it first (hopefully so you can persuade them to stay on).

Someone to tell it to is one of the fundamental needs of human beings. ~Miles Franklin

Additionally, if you know them well enough, you will gain valuable insights into what may be affecting them in their lives, which will provide you with the knowledge to ensure you can keep them happy. An example, if Captain Invincible is complaining about his wife nagging him about the holiday she has always wanted to go on, work with your HR team for this to happen.

Taking the time to do helpful and unnecessary acts of kindness goes a long way for employee loyalty, and you SHOULD go this extra mile for those who continually perform and are invaluable to you. The cost of NOT doing this could be a lot more than you’re willing to part with. Another example could be having the knowledge that SuperHRlady is moving house, and arranging for one of the company trucks to assist her with the move. This would make a tremendous impact on their lives, through a small contribution on your behalf. But you can only do this if you have a regular, genuine, close, professional relationship with them.

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A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money. John Ruskin

2. Ensure your company has a strong and up-to-date succession plan. God only knows people do retire. Even at 85, we have to let them go sometimes! To prevent the retirement of OperationsMan from being a stressful, traumatic event, ensure this transition is planned for.With careful planning and preparation, organisations can manage the changes that result from a generational transfer of leadership as well as the ongoing changes that occur regularly when key employees leave an organisation.

Although the type and extent of planning will be different, organisations both large and small need to have some sort of succession plan. Effective succession planning supports organisational stability and sustainability by ensuring there is an established process to meet staffing requirements. Boards and executive directors can demonstrate leadership by having the strategies and processes in place to ensure that these transitions occur smoothly, with little disruption to the company. With careful planning and preparation, organisations can manage the changes that result from a generational transfer of leadership as well as the ongoing changes that occur regularly

The lesson is that, No. 1, this management has to be at the highest class possible. No. 2, they have to have a succession plan. Al-Waleed bin Talal

3. Don’t assume everyone is content. Especially not the important ones – ASK. Provide them with a challenging, rewarding environment. Don’t assume they are satisfied with the same things they were 5 years ago, regularly checking in with them on a professional basis as well as a personal basis. Ask them if they feel challenged, or would like a new challenge, if their training is sufficient, understanding the answers to these questions is vital to be able to retain quality personnel.

Assumptions are the termites of relationships. Henry Winkler

4. Understand their market value. If your key players are as valuable as you know they are, the chances are, they know it too, and so do your competitors. It’s always hard to find great people, but even harder to keep them. When other organisations lose their key people from retirement, head hunting, mergers, whatever it may be, when push comes to shove, they will play every trick in the book to attract your people away from you, and towards them. It’s always hard to find great people, but even harder to keep them

Head hunting will always occur, the only way you can prevent significant loss from this is to ensure that you have the strong personal and professional relationship as I mentioned above, ensure they are satisfied with their job (again, as above), and make sure their financial rewards match or exceed that of competitors. That’s not to say you should pay your people more in case they are head hunted, but pay them well enough not to jump at the first offer they get. Make sure you keep abreast of the HR news of your competitors, know when they are on the lookout, and understand what they might be offering to your staff.

If you know the enemy and know yourself you need not fear the results of a hundred battles. Sun Tzu

5. Think outside the box when it comes to retaining the value and knowledge of the departed. People retire, people leave. That’s ok if they were terrible, but damaging if they were key players. A way to curtail the loss of these significant people is to ensure when they do leave, you retain a strong positive relationship with them.

This might be hard as the urge to be resentful if a key player abandons ships might be strong, however, they might hate their new post and want to come back, and it’s valuable to ensure there is an allowance for that. Also, keeping things friendly with past key influencers can allow for the opportunity for the knowledge of these Super Employees to continually benefit your organization.

Invite your ex-SuperPeople to Golfing Days, to social events, and have your young and aspirant upcoming super stars mingle with them, ask them questions, there is no preventing your retired Super-Strategy-Man from giving your newbies all the tips of the trade on the golf course, retired or not. The key is to think outside the box about how you can still utilise their knowledge and experience, even without them being on the pay run.

Retirement means no pressure, no stress, no heartache… unless you play golf. Gene Perret

Hopefully some of these points can act as food for thought for you and your organisation, and allow you to better plan for succession and key personnel retention.

Charlotte Caruso

Founder & CEO of PuggleFM