I started my company a decade ago with my husband, a good friend, and my sister–who eventually quit. We’d grown from our scrappy team of four to an equally scrappy team of 14, but somewhere along the way my sister, whom I’d put in charge of content management, stopped feeling like it was a fit for her career.
I was hurt. It’s always hard when a key leader leaves–and it’s even harder when they’re someone you’re close to. Luckily, my sister and I remain best friends, but her departure was still a huge shock to our team.
When important people quit, it can really disrupt your team’s day-to-day operations. But I’ve discovered some things about what it takes to keep things running smoothly. Here are a few of the crucial steps you should take as soon as one of your key employees lets you know they’ve decided to move on:
Step 1: Schedule An Exit Interview
Exit interviews shouldn’t just happen in large organizations. If a key leader decides to leave on their own terms, make sure you sit down and have a face-to-face meeting. Get a date on the calendar before their last day. Then ask these questions:
- Why are you choosing to leave?
- How could we have improved this situation before you decided to leave?
- Did we provide you with the tools and training you needed to complete your job to the best of your abilities?
- How would you describe the company culture in your department and company-wide?
- If you were CEO, what three things would you change about the company?
Make sure you record this conversation, take notes, and file their answers–this way you can make adjustments based on their responses. At the very least, you’ll gain insight (good and bad) into the true inner workings of your company from somebody who can call it like they see it.
Step 2: Draft A Clear Plan For The Company
Before you break the news, make sure you clearly define who will be taking over what roles. Announcing that a key player is leaving without any clear direction can hurt morale and productivity and can even kick off a chain reaction of anxiety. It’s your job to make it known that the company isn’t going to crumble because of this leader’s departure. It might seem obvious to you that every employee is replaceable, but your other employees–especially if they’re new to the workforce–may not think that way.
Step 3: Break The News To The Entire Team At The Same Time
Don’t feed the gossip grapevine while you get your transition plan in order. As soon as you have a basic strategy in place for the weeks ahead, you’ve got to share the news. Failing to make a proper announcement to the entire team, or disclosing this information to people outside your company before informing your team, is an invitation for chaos. Plan what you’re going to say and how you’ll say it so that the news is easier to hear and deliver.
Step 4: Bring In Support
Regardless of whether your company is full of recent grads, veteran employees, or a mix of the two, you can expect that some of your team members will find the prospect of losing a leader overwhelming.
So make sure they know you’ll support them. If the departure means their roles will be changing, offer further training and development programs to help cultivate their skills and improve their productivity. Some of the best training happens on the job, but now isn’t a great time for that–especially not if your team just lost its leader.
Designate time immediately to work with your team one on one to make sure they’re prepared for their new roles. In the short-term, this is going to take time away from your other responsibilities, but it’ll help save you time, money, and possibly more employee attrition in the long run.
Step 5: Keep Things Positive
The world isn’t over just because you lost a key player–and sometimes your employees just need to hear you say it. It takes some planning and forethought to prepare your team for the imminent departure of a key player. But when you do, it’s easier for everyone to recalibrate quickly and move forward together.
Spin this negative into a positive–prepare your team for the change, stop office gossip before it can even start, and train the successors to take on their new roles as best they can.