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A Top Employee Left, Now What?

Your nightmare just came true: one of your top employees just put in her notice, leaving you reeling and wondering how you’ll replace her. Every company has to face the reality of losing top performers at one time or another. While it is a disappointment, it’s not the end of the world. Here are a few things you can do to make the best of this bad situation.

Don’t take it personally

When losing top performers, it’s hard not to take it as a personal insult, but remember that this is a success for this employee. You hired a talented and ambitious person. Inevitably, star performers want to take their careers to the next level. If you can’t offer that opportunity, they will find it elsewhere.

Indulging in feelings of hurt and offense is unproductive. Instead, realize that the person you coached, mentored and trained is ready to move on to her next step and sincerely wish the best for her.

Consider a counter-offer

Carefully consider whether you should extend a counter-offer. By the time an employee gets to the point of resigning from a position, they’ve already weighed the pros and cons of leaving your company. You may be able to entice them to stay with a higher salary, but you could just be putting off the inevitable or holding onto someone who’s already disconnected.

Develop a transition plan

Collaborate with the departing employee on a plan for transitioning her workload in the short term. Make sure her institutional knowledge is documented. Have her make a list of any projects she’ll finish up before she leaves, as well as any duties and projects that will need to be reassigned.

Have her create a list of clients and vendors that she is in direct contact with, and then come up with a proactive plan to notify them so that calls and emails don’t go unanswered.

Consider whether or not the workload can be distributed in the short term. If your team is already overburdened, you may need to bring in a temporary worker to help out. A top priority should be developing a job description and working with a recruiter to find a permanent replacement.

Communicate the departure

Get word of the resignation out as soon as possible, before rumors have a chance to spread. Coordinate with the exiting employee on making the announcement and explaining the reasoning to your team.

Be candid with the rest of your team and acknowledge that there might be some heavy workloads for a while, but that you are working on a solution. Let employees know that this could be an opportunity. If there were any tasks or projects that the departing employee was working on, this is a chance for others to step up, learn a new skill, or get promoted from within.

Conduct an exit interview

Before the employee leaves, sit down with her to ask for suggestions for improvement for the company and for you as a boss. Did your top employee feel like she wasn’t receiving enough training opportunities? Could she not see a clear path for advancement with your company? Was communication an issue?

Don’t just work through a checklist of standard questions. Ask thoughtful questions, really listen and then act on what you hear. Use that information to make improvements and make time to talk to your remaining employees about their goals and challenges.

Keep in touch

Most people tell a departing employee that they are welcome to come back if the new job is not what they were hoping for, but few people take the time to stay in touch.

Connect with that employee on LinkedIn and make sure that you have her new contact information. Invite her to lunch once or twice a year to see how she is doing and ensure she’s keeping you in mind. She may come back to work for you later, but even if she doesn’t, former employees can be an excellent source of referrals and a good reference for future potential hires.



Janet Berry-Johnson

Janet Berry-Johnson is a CPA and a freelance writer with a background in accounting and insurance. Her writing has appeared in Forbes, Guyvorce, Magnify Money, Freshbooks, Intuit's Firm of the Future, Discover Student Loans, and Chase News & Stories. Janet lives in Arizona with her husband and son and their rescue dog, Dexter.