It’s inevitable: at some point, a star performer on your team will move on from their current role and you will be faced with the challenge of replacing them. In some cases, this employee may depart the company for a new opportunity elsewhere. In others, their stellar performance earns them an internal promotion, shifting their role in the company. Either way, their departure can leave a leadership vacuum that impacts everything from deliverable deadlines to employee morale.

Filling the gap left by a high performer’s departure is never easy. The tangible and intangible qualities that made one employee a star won’t necessarily apply to the next hire, especially in the case of a promotion. Rather than trying to replace the performer with an identical new hire, we advise companies to take time to think critically about the position and how to better tailor the role to the company’s current and future needs.

Recently, my co-worker Cliff Nelson and I worked with a client in the restaurant industry who needed to replace a star performer due to an internal promotion. Initially, the client desired someone from their market segment. After assessing the client’s needs, however, it became apparent that the client would benefit from having someone different. The client needed a thought leader who would challenge the status quo by leveraging a new perspective and different background to drive further success.

These three questions helped us identify the ideal replacement candidate, and may be beneficial for your talent search, too:

  1. What’s our current market position? Start with a candid evaluation of industry challenges and opportunities. Is your company prepared to capitalize on new growth opportunities? Does an emerging competitor pose a market share threat? Has anyone in the industry learned from some of the changes we’re looking to implement? When we asked the client these questions, they identified potential vulnerabilities in their operations. While the current operational performance was solid, they felt higher performance levels were needed to protect their market advantage.
  2. What skills or experience does the company need?
    Next, consider the skills and expertise that are vital to addressing market opportunities and threats but are currently missing from your talent roster. Our client recognized that while the current team exceled, they needed someone with a strong, process-driven approach. Ideally this candidate would come from within the industry but outside the industry segment who could raise performance standards to the next level. This need shaped our candidate search.
  3. How will the new hire lead? In addition to bringing the right experience and perspective, any new hire must also be able to fill the leadership void left by your star performer. As you evaluate potential candidates, consider how their leadership style will mesh with the current team. Will they embrace the culture and add to it or disrupt a proven organizational advantage and try to reinvent the wheel? After several conversations with our client, we understood that the team would respond best to a leader with a proven record of successful change implementation. We refined our search to recruit an industry thought leader with a history of inspiring confidence and unifying the team during transitional periods.

When a star performer leaves, it’s tempting to press full steam ahead with a replacement search. Instead, take time first to think critically about your needs in relation to your market position and future expectations.

To learn more about how we can help recruit your next star performer, please leave a comment below and we will have someone reach out to you.