Even if your company’s strategic plan is to stay the course with your current leadership team, accidents, emergencies, and personnel changes can still happen. When you and your board find yourselves hiring, you must choose the right replacement for your executive who will protect your company’s vision and move the business forward.

5 Strategies to Choose the Right Replacement Executive

  • Have an interim executive in mind
  • Take your time choosing the right replacement
  • Have a clear but flexible vision of the company’s future
  • Consider promotion and coaching of internal candidates
  • Help the replacement set a plan of action

Whether because of illness, injury, termination, or internal dispute, your board needs to face the reality that any employee – even the ones at the top – may need to be replaced at any time. These strategies help to prepare for that challenge.

Have an Interim Executive in Mind

You never know when someone will need to leave for personal, professional, or health reasons. That’s why you should always have an idea of who will step in to fill any essential role, at least on an interim basis. Think of it like theater. “The show must go on” even if a key actor is sick. To avoid cancellations, most theaters identify understudies – members within the cast who can fill the role on a temporary basis until the lead actor returns or a new actor is found.

Who are your company’s understudies? If something happened to one of your c-suite employees tomorrow, who could step in while the board chooses the right replacement?

Take Your Time Choosing the Right Replacement

Your company can’t move forward without a leader. However, your transition team should not make such a weighty decision lightly, or in a hurry. It can and should sometimes take months to find someone with the right balance of skills, experience, and vision to lead your team. Create a plan that sets out the timeline and leaves enough space for your board to fully vet potential candidates.

What is your company’s search plan? How long will you hold the position open? What are your criteria to fill it? Who should have a say in who takes the seat?

Have a Clear but Flexible Vision of the Company’s Future

Replacing an executive isn’t the same as hiring a new shift worker or manager. The preferences, leadership style, and perspectives of an executive can shift the entire company. Your board needs to have a clear understanding of where the business is now, and where it is headed, before you add in the variable of new leadership. You may wish to hire an outside business consultant to guide your board in this strategic planning before writing a job description. This will allow you to consider candidates that align with your vision, and still be open to innovative ideas that could shift the company’s trajectory.

What are your company’s top goals in the next 5 – 10 years? How could a new executive speed you on your path? Where can you build in flexibility to let them set one of their own?

Consider Promotion and Coaching of Internal Candidates

Sometimes, the right person for the position may already work for the company. Many boards assume that choosing the right replacement for an executive involves headhunting leadership from a competitor or parallel business. However, if your priorities include maintaining the existing company culture or moving forward with a long-term project, an internal candidate might provide the most consistency. You may be able to supplement their skills with one-on-one executive coaching, allowing them to grow into the role of executive.

Who on your existing team has potential for advancement? What additional training would they need to step into the role?

Help the replacement set a plan of action

How a new executive steps into the leadership position is often as important as anything that shows up on their resume. When a replacement executive comes on, you should work with them to swiftly develop and announce a vision for the company’s future, with action items that start right away. This will help get your employees on board with the changes and keep them from comparing it to what might have been.

How will you introduce your new executive to the staff? What changes will need to happen to bring their vision into action?

Choosing the right replacement for an executive takes careful consideration of both the company and the people applying for the position. By working with a business consultant experienced in managing companies in transition, you can help protect your business’s priorities, and find your next leader.


David Stanislaw is an organizational development specialist with over 30 years’ experience helping business in transition. Contact us to meet with David to begin choosing the right replacement executive today.