When a top executive leaves an organization, everyone scrambles to fill that key vacancy. But in the hurry to do that, a far bigger turnover problem is often overlooked.

When a key executive leaves, everyone who reported to that executive should be considered a “flight risk” – because the second tier of managers are at a significantly increased risk of leaving the organization for at least a year after a key executive leaves. So what causes that?

  • Sometimes the second level executives were hoping to get the top job and feel snubbed when they were not selected.
  • Uncertainty rises when a key position is vacant.  Many executives put feelers out in the job market during that interim time because of a (legitimate) fear that the new boss will bring in their own new team.
  • Sometimes people had a personal loyalty to the old boss, or simply prefer the old way of doing things and they are not eager to make the changes to adapt to a new boss.
  • No matter what the reason, most people stop and reassess their own career when a key person leaves – they ask themselves “I wonder if it’s also time for me to make a change.”  They may ultimately stay, but they invariably ask the question.

Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer wrote an intriguing post about the psychology behind hiring an outsider for a top position, and why so many fail.

“Filling senior-level positions from outside sends a clear message to the current executive team-sorry, you’re just not good enough.  And since outside CEO succession almost invariably results in turnover in top management as the new person brings in his or her own team, the current senior-level managers get disheartened.  They naturally begin thinking about how to find a new job instead of concentrating on improving results at their current company.”

So when it comes to executive turnover, just remember the adage “When it rains it pours” … then go bolt the exit doors.

To gain more perspective on performance management and employee turnover, visit “What Drives Employee Retention and Employee Turnover?”