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What To Do When A Key Employee Quits

One of your best employees comes into your office to tell you that they’re quitting. Imagine that painful feeling as your heart sinks to your stomach.

How are you going to cover their responsibilities? How are you going to explain this to the other team members? How are you going to find someone as good to replace them?

These are the types of questions that will likely be racing through your mind.

The psychological blow that this takes on you is hard to describe. You relied on that person. As painful as it might be, it’s inevitable.

Eventually, at some point in most employee’s careers, they’ll either find a better job or just get tired of what they’re doing (and of you).

What separates great leaders from mediocre managers is how they react to the situation.

Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.Richard Branson

Free Bonus: Download the full list of 50 must-have stay and exit interview questions.

How To React When They Tell You

A natural first response might involve getting angry, emotional, and maybe even letting a few expletives fly.

But don’t do that.

Here is how you should react when they tell you.

  1. Stay Calm

    Just breathe, relax, and be happy for the person that they’re potentially going to start enjoying their life again.

    If you’re really nice, you’ll ask them about the new organization they’re joining or what their plans are.

    It’s important for leaders to understand how fast the word can spread these days, especially with social media, so do your best to not have an ex-employee bad mouth you.

  2. Don’t Take It Personally

    Chances are, hopefully, that they didn’t quit solely because of you. If that’s the case, then remember to not take it personally.

    You can’t be mad at someone for getting a better opportunity, and if they’re going through something personal, then there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

  3. Have An Honest Conversation

    It’s a good idea to have an open and honest conversation about what went wrong and what could have gone better. This is the best time to have a conversation like this, since an employee has nothing to lose.

    I would really format it as an informal discussion, and keep it slightly different than an exit interview.

  4. Ask Them To Share Knowledge

    Hopefully you let the employee stay on staff for at least two weeks (some companies call security and have you escorted ASAP) so that they can pass on any of their secrets to the remaining employees.

    This is another reason why you want to be respectful with an employee that is leaving, so that they’re incentivized to help you out even though they don’t have to.

  5. Be Transparent With The Rest Of The Team

    Let the rest of the team know as soon as possible what happened and that you (hopefully) plan to hire someone to replace them.

    This will let the team know that this is only temporary, and you’re empathetic about the extra work that the others will have to do.

    Tell employees that anyone that wants to come talk to you about what happened is more than welcome to. Be open and honest throughout the whole process.

How To Make Sure It Goes Smoothly

There are a few key rules I want to highlight here that will make an employee’s departure less of a blow to the entire company.

  1. Document And Organize Everything

    One of the best pieces of advice is to relentlessly document every single thing in your company, so that if a new employee joins the team, they can easily discover what has happened.

    Every department and role should have deep documentation on how they do things, and it should be easily accessible.

    One of the amazing things about using a tool like Slack is that it saves all conversations and everything is searchable. It’s much cleaner than having everything in email.

    Between Slack, Trello, and Google Docs, you should be good to have everything properly organized.

  2. Spread Knowledge

    It’s not good if you have an employee on the team that is the only person in the company that knows how to do a certain task or process.

    You need to ask yourself “how badly would it damage us if person X left tomorrow?”

    If you don’t like the answer to that question, then start figuring out ways to have more than one person able to handle things.

    This is another reason why documenting everything is so important.

Conducting Exit And Stay Interviews

Both are important, and both should be done regularly.

Exit interviews are surveys that you give to employees that are leaving your organization.

You can do these either in person, over the phone, or using a survey tool.

The advantage of doing it in person or over the phone is that you can follow up on the responses, but the disadvantage is that you might not get the most open and honest responses.

Here are a few sample questions that you can use in your next exit interview:

  1. If your reason for leaving was a new job, what does this new job offer that your position here did not?
  2. Was a single event responsible for your decision to leave?
  3. Did you share your concerns with anyone in the company before deciding to leave?
  4. What did you like least about this organization?
  5. Were you happy with your pay, benefits and other incentives?
  6. Did you have clear goals and know what was expected of you in your job?

Stay interviews are interviews done when an employee is still at the company.

You can use this to both retain top employees and learn what could attract new employees.

Here are a few questions you can use in your stay interviews:

  1. What’s the #1 reason that makes you want to stay here?
  2. If a friend asked you why they should work here, what would you say?
  3. Do you feel that your work makes a difference to the company?
  4. Do you feel as if we’re fully utilizing your skills?
  5. Do you feel like your opinions and suggestions count?
  6. If you were allowed to change your job, what’s one thing you’d change about it?
  7. What would have to happen to make you consider leaving here?
Free Bonus: Download the full list of 50 must-have stay and exit interview questions.

Have You Ever Dealt With A Key Employee Quitting?

Share your story in the comments below!

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