We all know there’s never a good time for a key employee to give his or her notice. Perhaps you’re working with a skeleton team and the employee’s exact skillset is critical to meeting your goals. Or maybe you’ve finally got your dream team together just in time to prepare for a big conference. Yet no matter what the situation is, it’s important to take a step back and see if instead of suffering a major loss, you can turn the situation to your advantage.
First things first
Before doing anything else, find out why the employee is leaving. This can be crucial to keeping your other employees, because if there’s something causing general unhappiness or discontent among your people, you need to address it or you might lose more talent.
You should also decide together with the employee who will inform the rest of the team. If you can do it together and show that your relationship is still a good one, it will be better for morale and reduce the chances of other team members jumping ship. In addition, aim to stay in touch with the employee when he or she is gone. After all, you never know when you might be working together again.
Replacing lost skills
Many managers make the mistake of trying to immediately replace a good employee with a candidate with the exact same capabilities. But as Jay Steinfeld points out in his Inc.com article “9 Things You MUST do When a Key Employee Leaves,” it’s better to make a good decision than a fast one. A wise approach is to think about replacing the skills needed to fulfill the function and then to look at your remaining employees’ abilities. Perhaps there’s already someone on the team or in your department who possesses most of the skills and could be trained up to fill the position. This means you get someone who’s already familiar with the company and is assimilated into the culture, which is less of a risk than an external hire.
If you’re working on a lean budget, it can also be a good idea to examine whether it’s possible to divide the function’s responsibilities and see if any of your team members possess the required skills to assume them (if their workloads allow). You’d be surprised at how often you can find the perfect mix by combining the strengths of multiple people.
However, if you do have to bring in an external candidate, then it’s the perfect opportunity to look for someone who offers something you don’t yet have in-house, such as a specific type of experience or connections to a particular industry.
Today, employees rarely plan on staying with a single employer for more than a couple of years. That’s why you need to be prepared to lose key employees every now and then. Just keep in mind that though you can’t replace a human, you can replace his or her skills — and you will be able to lead your team through any challenges that follow a great professional’s departure.