4 Actions Organizations Can Take When a Leader Exits

Losing a high-performing leader can feel jarring and disruptive, but there are immediate steps you can take to ensure that the loss of such a leader feels more like an opportunity than a catastrophe. Sara Garlick Lundberg and Maryanne Wanca-Thibault from DHR Global offer four ideas for leading through change at the top.

June 10, 2022 – Increasingly, search firms are receiving urgent calls from CEOs with an immediate need to replace a high-performing member of their senior leadership team tempted to another role. DHR Global is no exception. The firm’s phones are ringing off the hook with such requests. “Most are understandably concerned that it will be difficult to replace a high performer in a tough market – others are nearly panicked,” said Sara Garlick Lundberg, a partner with the firm. “More now than ever, CEOs across the country are feeling the weight of the great re-evaluation across their org chart.”

A recent report by Nonprofit HR noted that in the next three years, 45 percent of non-profit staffers will seek new jobs. “Let’s face it, the challenges of replacing a high-performing leader on your team may be anxiety inducing, but there are steps you can take to put you – and your colleagues – at ease during a period of unexpected transition,” said DHR Global partner Maryanne Wanca-Thibault. What pre-emptive actions can leaders take to ensure their new hires are successful? DHR Global identified four immediate steps you can take when a high performer departs:

Listen, Reflect, & Communicate

As a leader, you have a specific lens through which you view your internal leaders, according to the DHR Global report. “Take this period of transition not only to reflect on your perceptions and experiences but to learn from internal and external stakeholders and gain insights into the open role.” said Ms. Garlick Lundberg. “This includes the personality and skills others feel are important for a new leader. It is a critical opportunity to learn from individuals who have interacted with the outgoing leader over time and under various circumstances. Contact board members, colleagues, and staff, as well as donors.”

“Find those who knew the leader when they started, saw them at work, and witnessed their accomplishments and struggles over time,” said Dr. Wanca-Thibault. “This knowledge will help you to understand how the position has evolved and what drives high performance in this function. It can also be the first step is getting buy-in/acceptance from those who will interact with the new leader.”

Engage Your Outgoing Leader

An outgoing leader can provide important information as you make the decision for your next hire. “Before their departure, ask them to make an informal list of all their daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities,” said Ms. Garlick Lundberg. “Beyond the role’s core functions, you will want to understand their team’s dynamics and behaviors that drive success, as well as where there may be potential challenges for someone stepping into the role. The goal is to make sure you design the position to meet the needs of the organization and look for someone with the skill sets and personality to perform successfully in that role as it evolves into the future.”

Related: 5 Hiring Insights from Executive Recruiters

As Rebecca Knight noted in her Harvard Business Review article, “The Right Way to Off-Board a Departing Employee,” “You’re not going to be able to clone the employee, but you can identify her behaviors, thought patterns, and processes that have made her such a valuable decision maker.”

Grab a Looking Glass

Change is hard, but it’s important to look forward. The DHR Global report notes that when you prepare to fill the position, asking these questions will help you identify what skills and mindset will help your nonprofit thrive

  • Envision what success means for your organization now and into the future – what will you be doing, accomplishing, and what would you like to be celebrating in two or three years?
  • What skills, background, and qualities will help your organization reach those goals?
  • Who will be a strong “culture add” as your organization evolves?
  • Consider what the position might entail in three to five years.
  • Will the individual you hire today have the agility and resilience to change with the times?  Anticipate and frame candidate conversations in a way that helps you understand candidates’ ability to lead a team through periods of growth or evolution.

Solidify Buy-in

“Once you have collected feedback and established an early-stage plan, circle back with those you engaged earlier in the process,” said Dr. Wanca-Thibault. “You have taken a great first step in engaging and collecting insights from those impacted by the departure, but change can be anxiety inducing. Take time to communicate a high-level plan and timeline in order to build trust and allay concerns of those faced with uncertainty during transition. This is a second opportunity to gain stakeholder buy-in, as you make a final decision on the best candidate for the opening.”

Retaining Your Employees During the Great Resignation
What’s behind the recent wave of job departures? Sara Garlick Lundberg of DHR Global says that in many cases the blame lies in organizations’ failure to have the conversations needed to retain their talent or thoughtfully adapting to new circumstances, in addition to burnout. She went to her colleagues at DHR’s Leadership Consulting to solicit their insights.

“Finally, get ready to act quickly,” said Ms. Garlick Lundberg. “In this fast-moving market, there are a lot of great leaders looking for a change, but competition is fierce and the need to move efficiently and make decisions quickly is more important than ever.”

Veteran Recruiters

Since 1989, DHR Global has been a leading, privately held provider of executive search solutions with more than 50 wholly owned offices spanning the globe. The firm’s consultants specialize in all industries and functions, providing senior-level executive search, management assessment, and succession planning services tailored to the qualities and specifications of its client base.

With more than 20 years of leadership experience, Ms. Garlick Lundberg specializes in non-profit search consulting, organizational assessment, and executive transitions. She works across the health, education, human service, conservation, arts, and youth development spaces to secure executive leadership, as well as with CEOs to identify senior talent in the areas of finance, fundraising, operations, and research. Her clients have included Breast Cancer Research Foundation, Physicians for Human Rights, Child Mind Institute, New York University, and Trust for Public Land.

Dr. Wanca-Thibault has more than 30 years of experience as a consultant and advisor in the areas of leadership assessment, organizational development, and executive coaching. As a partner of DHR Leadership Consulting, she helps clients assess fit for executive, C-suite, and board positions. Her focus on the people-side of the organization comes from a deep interest in organizational behavior, communication, and helping professionals maximize performance.

Related: How to Prepare Candidates for a Successful Resignation

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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