I’m indebted to SF who helped me with this month’s topic: succession planning.  And I’m adding building a talent pipeline to that.  Both of these (fairly simple) concepts might coincide in an unwanted way one day when one of your top people resigns and is suddenly leaving.  When your top performer resigns their notice period goes by in a flash. On the other hand, when you’ve recruited and are waiting the 30 or 45 days for the new person to come, it seems like an eternity.  If you’re a manager, chances are you have experienced both these scenarios.

An unexpected resignation is always a shock. Sometimes managers react badly and refuse to accept the resignation – as if it was their choice. We don’t work in an indentured society, people are free to choose who they give their labour to, and managers certainly don’t have any extraordinary or extrajudicial powers to retain people. If someone wants to leave, they can leave.  Candidates sometimes call us with this story and our response is always the same: they have every right to leave when they want (as long as they fulfill their contractual obligations).

Often the manager will scrabble around, trying to cobble together internal resources to cover the loss.  Sometimes this can work very well and perhaps a restructure or reform of the department or business unit will make everyone happier – and even save a bit on payroll too. But the reverse is also true. Managers simply can’t imagine not having that position filled and they try anything to maintain their status quo.  They might badger their HR department to source a replacement. When that fails, either HR or the line manager comes to us.

That’s when the fun starts.  Now we are some weeks into the resignation period and the incumbent is leaving in a matter of days. Yet they may ask for a discount on fees (which we won’t do) or insist that the position be filled within a couple of weeks (despite them having tried for perhaps a month). All very entertaining to an outside observer, but less amusing up close to the action.

One antidote to all of that is the simple matter of building a talent pipeline.  This isn’t something that the HR department or the line manager has to do alone – we can help. It’s fairly easy to construct, not particularly time-consuming to manage, but the dividends of having done it are substantial. When that shock resignation comes in, it’s fairly straightforward to pick up the talent pipeline, dust it off and see what we have.  Within a few days, it is possible to be interviewing and selecting a replacement. Yes, there might be a hiatus of a couple of weeks between the departure and the new arrival, but that is much better than months – which we have seen on more than one occasion. As usual, let me know if you have any particular topic you would like to see covered here.

Gary Woollacott is an executive search consultant who works for Horton International in Vietnam, Thailand and Laos.  He can be reached at +84 8 3910 7682 or via woollacott@hortoninternational.com