Bye, Bye, Bye – Is your business ready for sudden senior leadership departures?

The sudden resignation of the head coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers (the Club) was a shock to the Club and to the wider A-League football community.

The head coach advised the Club just one week before the start of the A-League season that he would be leaving immediately to take up a coaching role at an international club, and in the process, would be taking most of his assistant coaches with him. The hasty exodus of the head coach and members of the coaching team seemed to stun the Club’s CEO and players who had to quickly address the now vacant coaching positions all the while preparing for the opening round of the season.

Many commentators have noted that, as the Club’s foundation coach, he had a significant influence over the development of the Club, from setting the culture to the recruitment of players. Indeed, many of the players would have agreed to terms with the Club because of the success of the head coach and his coaching team, only now to be coached by an interim manager.

The unexpected departure of personnel in key and senior leadership positions also occurs in a corporate context. For example, consider the scenario of a CEO who has been with a company for over ten years. The CEO advises shortly before the end of the financial year that they will be leaving to join another company… How does a business respond to this scenario?

Ideally, the business has a succession plan in place. At a minimum, a good succession plan should include:

  • Identification of the key leadership positions within the business and the required competencies;
  • Recruitment strategies required to fill the key positions;
  • Identification of employees who, with development, could fill the key roles or become the next leaders; and
  • A learning and development strategy for employees marked as potential future leaders. 

Having in place a succession plan with identified employees who would be able to step up and fill the CEO’s position, even if on a temporary basis, will hopefully ensure that there is a smooth transition and handover.

For example, the Club announced that the remaining assistant coach who had been part of the coaching structure since 2015, would be appointed as the caretaker head coach, while other individuals from within the Club would take up assistant roles.

Consider our scenario again, what if the CEO left and took other members of the team with him or her? Or upon finding out that the CEO has gone, what if other employees start to talk about leaving the business?

In these circumstances, in addition to having a succession plan, having a strong culture within the business with a leadership team who embodies the values of the organisation will demonstrate to employees that the business will continue “as usual” notwithstanding unexpected departures. With a strong culture in place, a business can then recruit personnel who fit the culture. In appointing the assistant coach as interim coach, the Club’s CEO noted that he “embodies the culture and vision” of the Club.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon, for a senior executive or manager to leave for a new opportunity. It is also inevitable that people in leadership positions will be replaced at some point in time. For businesses, it is not necessarily about denying or blocking employees from taking up opportunities, but about having a plan in place for the next set of leaders to continue to guide the organisation. 

Shane Koelmeyer is a leading workplace relations lawyer and Director at Workplace Law. Workplace Law is a specialist law firm providing employers with legal advice, training and representation in all aspects of workplace relations, employment-related matters and WH&S.

02 9256 7500 |

Information provided in this blog is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Workplace Law does not accept liability for any loss or damage arising from reliance on the content of this blog. Where applicable, liability is limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

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