Let’s face it, some employees are more valuable than others. When a key person quits, how do you assure a smooth transition? Here are a few pointers.
1. Conduct an exit interview. Start the exit interview by making it known that there are no hard feelings and, as much as you hate to see the person go, you understand their need to further their career. Next, ask them why they’re leaving. If it’s for reasons that you can control, such as money, job responsibilities, or work environment, there may be an opportunity to keep them. If a competitor made them an offer you can’t beat, let them know that your door is always open.
2. Nondisclosure agreement. Departing employees who are privy to sensitive company information should have signed a nondisclosure agreement [PDF] when they were hired. If they didn’t, ask them to sign one before they leave.
3. Make an announcement. The rumor mill is a powerful force in any organization. To avoid conjecture and hearsay, which can be bad for morale, announce the employee’s departure and their reasons for leaving. If appropriate, host a going-away party, and convene a staff meeting soon after the employee’s last day to discuss moving forward.
4. Have a backup plan. The old adage “the best defense is a good offense,” applies in this case. One employee should never be the sole holder of essential operational knowledge. Cross-train all employees to minimize the effects of a single employee’s departure.
5. Get the details in writing. Ask your key employees to write a small document that describes their daily duties. It should comprise all tasks, websites, and documents used, as well as usernames, passwords (kept in a secure location), and other important notes. If you haven’t done this and an important team member is leaving in the near future, offer to pay them extra to create the document before their departure.
6. Request their help in training their replacement. Ask the departing employee to help bring the new hire (or the colleague who will take over the position) up to speed.
7. Ask about freelance work. If the employee is leaving for reasons like spending more time with family or retirement, offer to hire them on a contract basis. This could be a temporary (until the transition is complete) or permanent arrangement. Not having to pay as much money (or cover benefits) may free up capital to hire a part-time employee or to invest in other areas of your business.
8. Re-evaluate your structure. Often, it’s difficult to make changes to your organizational structure when current employees have performed the same duties for a long time. A departing employee gives you the opportunity to reassign their duties and set new expectations.
9. Speak with a recruiter. Be prepared for the transition by maintaining an ongoing relationship with a recruiting agency. If you don’t currently have such a relationship, use this as an opportunity to create one if the departing employee was in a high-level position.
10. Stay positive. The departing employee may seem irreplaceable — but for all of their strengths, there were probably weaknesses, too. Yes, their departure may be a short-term blow to your business. But think about what kind of replacement could you hire to address some of those weaknesses. To borrow another popular saying: “When one door closes, another opens.”
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