How to cope when a key staff member resigns

The meeting

There comes a time when you get asked for a meeting. That meeting. The one when they resign. And not just anyone. Your hero staff member. Initially it will feel like your world is crumbling around you. Rest assured you will get through this and move on. Try to remember that it’s not personal, it’s just time for them to try something new or different.

So what now? First up, remember this: no-one is irreplaceable.

It might seem otherwise. But the truth is, there are loads of talented people out there. It’s a big world and even though it might seem impossible to find another hero staff member, you will. But here’s the thing: you’ll never find someone with exactly the same skills set. How can you? Everyone’s different. With careful planning and execution though, you’ll find someone who can push your business in new directions.

Need vs want

The next time you’re in a situation where an employee has resigned, let the initial panic subside. Slow down. Check in with where your team is at and what is on the horizon for the business. Look at these times with an open mind and as an opportunity to re-evaluate. Do you need to replace that person? Can anyone step up? What does a different structure look like?

Take some time to get the role right. You may discover through that process that you don’t need to re-hire at all. Most importantly, involve your team. Maybe someone on the team wants to do the role the person leaving has had claim to until now.

Document that

During the working notice period, put your staff member to work. This is a great time to get them to document their job. It really helps clarify all the tasks they performed and it helps you get across whether you need to spread out some of those tasks short term or whether they’re critical to a new hire.

Exit interview

Before they leave, do an exit interview. This is useful for finding out what ideas they have for improving the business and all the things you’re doing well. Consider outsourcing this work to someone independent from the business; sometimes your outgoing staff member needs a safe space in which to say how they really feel. This will give you a perspective from inside the business that you won’t get in a performance review.

Same, same but different

So now we’re back to the cycle of hiring and interviewing. Yes, it’s a bore but you get back what you put in. Remember you will not replace your valued team member with someone exactly like them, so stay open to people who do things differently. In fact, actively look for someone different. Sometimes it’s good to shake things up and challenge how things have always been done, but always prioritise a good cultural fit and a great attitude.

So right it’s wrong

If you know someone in your network that might be a good fit, but you speak to them and they don’t seem keen, know when to leave it alone. If someone is constantly putting up barriers to coming to work for you, it doesn’t sound like a relationship which is going to work in the long term.

So long, farewell

Key staff leaving can bring team morale down, especially if they’ve been in the team for a long time. Remember to find time to buoy up the team. Involving them in the new hire and reinforcing the direction the business is going in helps keep them looking forward and not back. Focusing on the future will also help you stay positive and ensure you remain open to change.

Onwards and upwards

After the dust has settled and the mojo is back in the team, take a moment to check in with everyone. Often one key member leaving can have the effect of others reassessing their role. This can be a good time to find out if there’s likely to be more upheaval and ready yourself for the next phase. While you can’t always control this, you can mitigate it with good communication and simply caring about the effect of change on the team.

Remember, change is inevitable. How else can your business evolve? So embrace it and try to enjoy the process. Who knows where it will take you next? What great person is out there just hoping to get an opportunity to work with a company like yours?

Written by Wendy Mather, business adviser at Generate. A version of this article was originally posted on their Better Business blog.



Generate are not your typical accountants. We provide operational and strategic support to creative and innovative businesses of all stripes and colours. 

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