Are You in Danger of Losing Your Top Executives?

By Rick Cassidy

When a low-level employee leaves your company, the impact typically doesn’t shake the foundation — a replacement is found, trained, and on-boarded, and corporate life goes on. Your top executives, however, hold significantly more buy-in, presence, and control in the way your company operates.

The departure of a top executive can even affect how your brand is perceived by your target market. Retention strategies and skilled talent management moves help your company avoid the fallout from losing these individuals by planning for inevitable crossroads—position-related problems, dissatisfaction, even problems as pervasive as boredom.

The answer for minimizing the risk of being blindsided and avoiding a hasty executive search is found in a simple two-step system:

Step 1: Fostering and Maintaining Transparent Communication

  • Your executives can’t tell you there’s a problem if they don’t have an opportunity to do so. While “making time” is a great first step, it has the tendency to occupy the same filler space as unproductive meetings. You’ll need to be proactive by asking them about their position, even if nothing appears to be wrong. It should be more often than once a year, as well: If you wait for an annual review, the underlying dissatisfaction could mean a resignation before the review is even scheduled.
  • Your executives need to feel like there is a mentor they can approach. With the possible exception of the CEO, top-level executives need peer-level support they can turn to if a particularly thorny issue arises, whether it involves job performance or workplace culture. Facilitate and encourage supportive communication between your executives even if they’re peers in different departments, solutions to some mutual challenges—output volume, sales growth, and so on—often overlap.
  • Your executives need a consistent platform to discuss their concerns. Email, office hours, and regular meetings are all, again, an excellent start, but they can lead to misinterpretations if they’re used as a sole source of contact or grievances. Commit to using a combination-based outreach to ensure your top talent is heard, recorded, and confident that your company will follow through.

Step 2: Identifying Departure Risk and Taking Action

The impetus to leave isn’t always caused by a nagging, unaddressed concern. You might listen carefully to your executives’ needs and wants and still fall short, which is why some proactive detective work is always warranted. Here are some red flags to watch for:

  • They’re “too” good at their job. This one sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? The fact is, however, that an unchallenged individual will quickly end up bored with what they’re doing. Noting this boredom and realizing the job is easy for their skillset might also force them to consider that they could be doing more elsewhere, for more money. Interrupt this spiral by occasionally asking for their help on challenging issues, even if they’re not necessarily under their own department’s purview. Ask too often and they might become frustrated, i.e. “this isn’t my job,” so be sure it’s only once in a while.
  • They seem particularly unmotivated after a trade show. Barring the obvious jet lag, a trade show stint that returns your best talent looking restless or bored might mean a poaching scenario is happening. During post-show reports and meetings, listen for the names of rival companies. If you see any on the show attendee/presenter docket that isn’t specifically mentioned in your talent’s report, it’s a phenomenon worth asking about. Likewise, if your company monitors email or in-house messaging, set an alert for the names and initials of rival brands.
  • They aren’t turning in the numbers/results they once were. Good employees aren’t just motivated to grow their company, they’re driven to be competitive in the process. A forced ranking leadership system can be the answer to flagging output energy, driving employees at every level (even executives) to perform at their best or risk dropping off the payroll.
  • They’re reaching retirement age. The most obvious red flag, though this still isn’t a given, executives are working later and later in life. That doesn’t mean, however, that your company shouldn’t prepare. Fostering succession leadership setup will help motivate employees on multiple levels: It will empower your executives to give you plenty of notice, and it will coax younger up-and-comers into learning and assuming important tasks before they bear the brunt of position responsibilities.

If your top-level executives feel that you’re listening to their needs, addressing their wants, and building a business that supports their goals, they’re far less likely to pack up their desk. Remember, an investment in retention strategy isn’t just a stopgap for preventing the departure of an individual, it’s safeguarding the knowledge, experience, history, and expertise found in your brand, and ensuring that the members of your leadership continue to be a guiding force for the rest of your corporate team.

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About Sky Search Partners

Rick Cassidy, Sky Search Partners president, founded the firm for one primary reason: We love putting people to work. Sky Search Partners has developed a rigorous platform for engaging, researching, and connecting with the most successful executive talent. The firm executes with a laser focus on to identify candidates precisely aligned to search specifications. A proven formula of integrity and “people first” enables it to build trusted relationships with organizations and top-tier talent across key disciplines, job titles, national markets, and industry classes. This enables client organizations to create their “dream team,” especially in highly competitive environments where results are imperative.

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