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Replacing Executives When They Leave…

Where are the reinforcements?

I was looking at some data this week about searches performed in our firm over the past five years.  What I saw supported something we have been seeing in the retained executive search business since the start of the Great Recession.

Five years ago, about 80% of our search assignments were initiated to replace executives who had left their jobs for some reason.  It might be retirement, relocation, promotion.  Some were lured away for better jobs in different companies.  But whatever the reason, the job was open and the company needed to fill it.  Some years, 90% of our assignments were to fill vacated jobs.

Last year, 60% of our work was done to fill a vacant role, while 40% was for newly created positions.  So far this year the trend is continuing, with assignments for new roles outpacing replacement roles.

So what does it mean?

During the recession, many companies froze their hiring, people did not retire and “stars” were not answering recruiter’s calls.  When a job did open up, the company often divvied up the position’s responsibilities between other executives or let the number two person take over or just made due.  Whatever the strategy, the result was the same – fewer people were doing more work.  Still, with all the depressing economic news, no one was about to complain.  Employers didn’t have to tell people “You’re lucky to have a job”.  Employees were saying that to themselves.

Now we are coming out of the recession.  Although there are still plenty of troubling signs in the economy, for the first time in a long time the good news usually outweighs the bad.  The job market is loosening.  Some who planned to retire before the market crashed are now starting to leave the workforce.  “Stars” are answering the phone again when recruiters call.  And the people who have been working too many hours, spinning too many plates and settling for less money are no longer grateful just to have a job.  They are getting restless, cranky, exhausted and resentful.

I suspect that when we look at our business 18 months from now, we are going to discover that companies are again filling jobs vacated by departing workers or refilling some of the jobs which were vacated a few years ago.  They are starting to see that they can no longer squeeze people, pile up cash and sit on their hands.  It’s time to get back in the game.

In my next post, I will talk about those newly created jobs – where they are and what they are – and what that means for finding talent and managing your career.

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