Manager’s Crisis! The Cost of an Unfilled Position


It happens to every manager. An unexpected vacancy. It may be a serious illness, a spousal relocation or simply a valued employee accepting a new position. But suddenly – out of nowhere, – you have a significant position that needs to be filled.

“We’ll handle it,” may be your first thought. “Others will do the work or I will, and we’ll get it filled at some point.”

But is that the right approach? “Cost of vacancy” is a widely-known term in business schools. This is calculated by dividing annual revenues by the number of employees. But is that an accurate measurement of the true cost? No. Even experienced managers frequently underestimate the real cost of an unexpected open position. Let’s take a look at this situation.

Client Interaction

Did the former employee interact with people outside the firm? If so, you may have an even greater problem. Sales may be lost, and problems may not be solved. It is critical that all who deal with your firm work with excellent people who are thoroughly conversant with their specific needs. Clients will not respond well to dealing with “stand-ins” who are not thoroughly knowledgeable.

Reduced Departmental Effectiveness

In a multi-person department, the rest of the team will suffer too, and in ways that may not be readily apparent.

It is easy to say that the former employee’s work will be done effectively, as others jump in to try to “cover.” But if your workload was instantly increased by 30%, would the rest of your performance suffer? Yes. And so will the performance of every employee affected.

Lack of Management Effectiveness

If the vacant position is management, it’s even worse. Communications, both upward and downwards, will suffer markedly. Upper-level managers will have difficulty effectively transmitting directions to “line” employees. And relevant important decisions regarding the direction of the department simply will not be made. Think, for example, of delays or errors in marketing a new product or the inefficiencies in the company’s finances. A management vacancy can be very expensive.

Filling the Position

If you move quickly to fill the position, the only difficulties will be in finding and selecting the right candidate. But delay reduces your odds of doing so.

When a position is open for longer than absolutely necessary, candidates will know it – and so will your competitors. Questions will be raised as to why. The result will be greater difficulty in filling the position with the best candidate – and your reputation in the market may suffer as well.

So What’s the Answer?

The first thing you should do is act quickly. Don’t think time will enable you to make a better decision. Putting any open position – especially an important one – on the “back burner” is a mistake.

The second thing is to follow the timeless wisdom of top corporate CEO Robert Townsend in his classic business book “Up the Organization”. In the chapter on Headhunters, he emphasizes:

“Go to the trouble of writing out your description of just the candidate you need in your own words, not job-description boilerplate.”

Then call up the best industry-specific executive search consultant you know, and follow Townsend’s next step;

“When the recruiter sends the first candidate for an interview, spend some time, even if at first glance that person is not what you’re looking for. Then call up your executive recruiter and explain in some detail where he’s on target and where he’s off. Do this after each candidate. Pretty soon he’ll zero in and start sending you the exact kind of people you want to choose from.”

So Where Are We?

Depending on the specific vacancy, this particular crisis can affect the department, the manager’s career and possibly even the company itself. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Don’t think that your existing staff can “cover” without great cost, and don’t delay. Contact a recruiter who specializes in your niche, and move quickly!

If the above steps are followed when a vacancy occurs, the problems and inefficiencies experienced by many managers and firms can be avoided. The result will be a smooth transition with an even stronger department.

Ann Zaslow-Rethaber is President of International Search Consultants. Ann can be reached directly at 888-866-7276 or via email at .

Steve Finkel is the best-selling business author and world renowned trainer in the field of executive search.  Information on Mr. Finkel’s background, or products and services will be found at