Take a Deep Breath and Be Respectful
First, take a deep breath and think carefully about what needs to be done before you react. Be respectful of the departing employee. In most cases, they want to leave on a good note so work with them on a positive transition plan. The transition, while always somewhat chaotic, will be much smoother for everyone if the spirit and tone is kept positive between all parties. Work through the transition plan first, then seek to understand reasons why they are leaving once the emotions settle.
Create a Hiring for Success Profile
Before you start making calls to possible candidates, take some time to really think through the role, what success looks like and what qualities you need in a person to achieve that success. Job descriptions are essential; however, it is better to build a “Hiring for Success” profile where you outline the business need for the position, the key responsibilities of the role, expected outcomes (what success looks like) and the critical hiring requirements. If possible, involve the outgoing employee in the process. Your key employee was a star, but what made them that way? Look for similar traits and background in new applicants. Or, conversely, think about your employee’s flaws and look for a hire that lacks them. Think of this as a huge opportunity to upgrade your team rather than finding a replacement.
Start with Your Talent Bench
Ideally, you already have a pool of talented applicants waiting in the wings. Resignation notices can arrive any time of the year and two weeks is often too little time to start looking from scratch. Keep a few resumes or names on file to fill in for any suddenly departed team members. Internal hires are a great way to expedite the hiring process.
The Transition Period
Work with the out-going employee to devise a solid transition plan. Take an inventory of all of their major projects and initiatives. Identify team members who can temporarily handle certain projects and cross-train where necessary. Gather as much information as possible to help an incoming employee get up to speed quickly. Understand where information is stored, including key files in the computer system and project timelines. It may be a good idea to ask the departing employee to put the initial plan together and then work through it with the entire team. If they were a superstar, then they want to leave on a high note and will work to make sure the transition goes smoothly.
Conduct an exit interview with the departing employee. Whenever someone leaves an organization, there’s a great opportunity to learn about your own company (and/or department). Ideally, this should be done on or near the employee’s last day. In an exit interview, seek to understand their reasons for leaving, their impressions of the company, suggestions for improvement, challenges in the role, etc. Again, keep the tone positive and respectful. You will be surprised to learn a lot from a key employee who is leaving your organization. An exit interview can help address any issues they have and help improve conditions for employees in the future, keeping them fulfilled and preventing a high turnover rate.
Say Goodbye on a High Note
It’s time to say goodbye to your star employee. An official going away party or lunch leaves everyone feeling good about the transition. In fact, experts say this does more for the morale of your other employees than the departing employee. It shows that you care about your employees and want what is best for them.
Losing an employee can be tough, but having a plan of action like the one above can keep the process smooth and relatively pain-free. Please add your own thoughts on what to do when a key employee resigns below in the comments.