When Someone On Your Team Quits.

It happens all the time. As a manager of people for over 20 years, I learned a lot of basic rules how to hire, onboard, manage, lead, motivate, layoff and sometimes fire my staff. I saw my colleagues consistently fail in just one area — when someone on their team gave their notice to leave. So I have some tips on how to handle it and make it a win-win-win for you, your soon-to-be leaving colleague, and the company.

Trust me — if you deviate from any of these tips, things might get messy:

  • If you surreptitiously find out ahead of time, don’t approach the person. Let them come to you. It ensures that you handle the interaction formally and allows the person to do it on their time.
  • When the person meets with you they will probably want to do the talking. Many exiting employees sometimes hand you a formal letter to read (and that’s fine). Let them talk and get it out — this is very hard for people to do. Shut up and let them speak.
  • When it’s your turn to reply — this might be hard — I want you to effuse positivity. Why? Positivity changes the whole situation from a fight, disagreement, bad situation instantly into a plus for you.
  • They’ve already made the decision to leave. Whatever the reason (you, pay, the environment, the work, etc.) there’s usually nothing you can do about it. Don’t fight it — embrace it.
  • Be their cheerleader. Turn a possible bad situation (maybe they didn’t like you) into a good one by asking how you can help them. A recommendation letter, a good word, flexibility with the transition — reach out to them.
  • Reckon back to when a boy/girlfriend broke up with you. The best way to handle it is to remain positive and agree with their decision. Again, they’ve already made the decision to leave. Your positivity will keep them a little off-kilter and plays well for you.
  • Don't take it personally. 95% of the time it's not you, it's something else.
  • It’s also important for your reputation. Some people might look at this as a wound to your organization (peers especially take glee in this) — the more positive and planned your response is — the better it will be seen by your team, peers, and management.
  • Try to nail down their transition plan — how long they are staying, what will they wrap up, what they are responsible for, who they will instruct on any outlier projects, etc. Even though they agree to a set amount of time (at least two weeks) it’s usually a lot less in reality.
  • Come to the conclusion they are gone right after they leave your office — it makes it easier that you have no unreal expectations when they leave early, call in sick, or come in late. Face it — in their mind, they’ve gone. This helps you set a focused mindset on transition immediately.
  • Set communication parameters before the meeting ends. They are leaving — you are staying — so it’s best if you immediately communicate to your superior and get a transitional message out to let the rest of the team/organization know.
  • Do you have an approved and in-place succession plan for your team? If you do — contact the person immediately to discuss their good fortune ASAP. If you don’t, time to make the donuts — make one, get it approved, and stick it in a drawer for future use. You will thank me. Another tack is to communicate to your team immediately and see who steps up to fill the void. You might be surprised.
  • Let your superiors know ASAPbefore they find out from someone else. Let them know you have a plan in place:
    • No replacement - the remaining team absorbs all responsibilities.
    • Reorganization - this is a blessing in disguise — you can change the structure immediately.
    • Internal replacement - someone from the team or organization.
    • External replacement - time to get HR involved and get the resumes flowing in.
  • This is a hard one — but it works: When they leave your office, get it in your head — they are already gone. Start making plans immediately and work with your team to fill the vacuum. Start de-listing them from future meetings — candidly, they will not be very important to the future proceedings and sometimes they become an irritant.
  • Don't ever trash-talk them after they give their notice (this happens ALL the time). This is a common and rookie mistake. Talk them up, make it sound like this is planned, and is a good thing. Be professional.
  • Make sure HR is involved at all junctures. Some people do weird things when they give their notice. They suddenly try to sabotage projects or down-talk the company since they have a better spot to jump to. If you see this happening, release them immediately. In any event, start the process of disengagement with HR. It's their job and they’re really good at it.
  • Celebrations/Get-Togethers are up to you. Try to have it off-site at a restaurant/bar so you can attend and have the ability to dis-engage when you want/need to. Again, be positive to keep the new momentum going.

Smile — just think — someone better might be right around the corner.

I’ve only touched the surface on this topic - what other tips do you use when people leave your organization?