Transition Management Consulting, Inc.

Will Staff Quit If the Exec Leaves?

by Bob Van Hook

One of the questions that potential clients often ask is, “If we let our executive go, isn’t there a risk that other staff members will walk out the door? Won’t our members rebel and go crazy?”

The answer is almost always “No.” When an executive leaves to take another job, staff, board, and often members feel jilted. They are sad and confused. We find that even when the departing executive has been in the position for decades and generally “beloved,” nobody leaves. Why not? I can answer on two levels. First, self-interest is a strong motivator, especially when acting out of loyalty has dire consequences. Other employees have bills to pay and they may actually like their jobs independent of their relationship with the departing CEO. Secondly, on the organizational level, members may be disappointed to see the executive leave, but they mostly don’t care so long as they feel like they are being kept in the loop and will continue to get their benefits as members and/or customers.

The most common reactions to executive departures is either mild sadness or relief.  Granted, we had one case where an employee didn’t show up on Monday morning after the CEO was fired on Friday. But, she was the daughter of the departed executive. I also heard of one case where the executive was fired, the board was impeached, and executive reinstated; extreme reactions of this nature are rare.

I find it curious that organizations place such high value on their executive, but when the executive departs, they are perfectly content to see the executive ride off into the sunset. We hold leaders in high esteem when they are in the position, but our memories of them often are short once they leave. Perhaps it is because so much of an executive’s power is positional – derived from being in the position rather than their personal characteristics or charisma.

Still, we start new with every executive. Fear and hope accompany the new chief executive. The fear is that they will not live up to our expectations, and the hope is that they will exceed the accomplishments of the departed executive. 

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