A decade ago I started Red Branch Media with my husband, a close friend, and my sister - all people who are near and dear. My sister, eventually quit. We'd quickly grown from a scrappy team of four, to an equally scrappy crew of 14, but along that growth, my sister discovered this place wasn't quite on path with her career goals.
Initially, I was hurt. It's never going to be easy when a key leader leaves. 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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Maren Hogan is a seasoned marketer, writer and business builder in the HR and Recruiting industry. Founder and CEO of Red Branch Media, an agency offering marketing strategy and outsourcing and thought leadership to HR and Recruiting Technology and Services organizations internationally, Hogan is a consistent advocate of next generation marketing techniques. She has built successful online communities, deployed brand strategies and been a thought leader in the global recruitment and talent space. You can read more of her work on Forbes, Business Insider, Entrepreneur, and her blog Marenated.
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