Is Replacing a Key Employee Mission Impossible?


What do you do when you lose a key employee? Someone who brings in millions of dollars a year in revenue. Someone who has been with you for over a decade. Someone who you think about in terms of being “family.”

I recently spoke with a small business owner about a need to backfill a key outside sales role. His soon-to-be former employee had been with the firm for 14 years and decided to pursue a new career.

He had done an awesome job running his sales territory and would be leaving behind shoes that are, in the short term, unfillable.

As a recruiter, I get calls like this from time to time. Thankfully, not often as this is a tough and emotional situation. It may be counterintuitive but calling me may not be the best solution to your problem.

In a small business with a long term term relationship, I cannot hope to find someone that will replace the exiting employee. We're talking about a relationship with depth and complexity. All I can do is bring you a slate of candidates that have the functional skills and relevant experience. I will also charge you a sizable fee that may tilt the relationship the wrong way from the beginning...think “buyer’s remorse.”

Instead, consider the advice that I shared with the business owner...

I recommended that he coordinates with his sales manager to schedule breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings with their best local contacts in the municipal and consulting engineering space. Ask each of their contacts for at least two names who they feel would be strong in an outside sales role with the company. Invest a couple of days in mining the territory for potential hires.

Total cost = one or two grand. Payoff for getting trusted recommendations = priceless!

Hiring key employees is the job of owners/managers. If your company is big enough to have an HR department, recognize they're there to support you but when it comes to leading the charge, it's your responsibility. Recommendations and referrals are the way to go.

As a seasoned recruiter, I want you to exhaust this strategy first because I believe it's your best chance for long term success. Even if you fail to find your next great hire using this type of approach, you will gain a better understanding of who you need. If we end up working together, this will help me to help you.

Good luck and happy hunting!

Written byAustin Meyermann, Founder and President of Hunter Crown, LLC

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