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leadership lab

Principal, Candido Consulting Group, Toronto

According to research from the Harvard Business Review, managers can identify 13 signs of when an employee is about to quit. The reality is that in some cases, the signs aren’t always read ­– or only read in retrospect – and an employee’s reasons for leaving aren’t always due to discontent. Especially in today’s labour market, where the decrease of full-time jobs and a host of other factors have helped make impermanence the new rule, employers and employees are no longer as loyalty-bound as they once were. But what happens when a manager is blindsided by the exit of one of their star players?

Resignations can be frustrating for companies, especially when they’re unexpected. Depending on the size of a business, losing a high performer can have a devastating impact on the bottom line, and handling a resignation is an area where many business owners struggle.

An owner or manager may feel the practical and psychological void left by the departure of someone whom they relied on – and even thought of as an ally or friend. But while losing a great employee is hard, acting irrationally could hurt future relationships and make the transition more difficult.

Here are five tips for when a business’s best person gives their notice:

Stay calm

Especially in smaller business environments, it’s not uncommon to develop familial-style relationships, and a business leader or manager may feel personally slighted or resentful when a trusted employee resigns. Avoid the urge to get emotional or unleash a barrage of questions. It’s okay to talk about the person’s future plans, but keep the tone warm and friendly. While the adage “don’t burn your bridges” is most often applied to departing employees, the same holds true for the employers seeing them go. You never know where that person will end up or, for that matter, where you’ll end up, so it’s advisable to maintain good relationships whenever possible.

Never counter-offer

Although often considered as a knee-jerk reaction, a counter-offer is not recommended. It’s not easy to see someone walk away, but offering more money is usually not the answer, even if that is what the employee was angling for. By the time they’ve made the decision to go, psychologically they already have one foot out the door. And even if more money works temporarily, it’s only a short-term fix. If the issue wasn’t monetary but, say, growth potential or workload, it will continue to pose a problem regardless of salary. Plus, they were ready to walk, and they know that the company didn’t value them until they had another offer on the table.

Do an exit interview

Understanding why someone is leaving might help a company keep the next person. But make sure the process is useful and doesn’t turn into a venting exercise for the employee. Ask questions like, what did you like most and least about working here? What would you change? If you could offer advice to the executives, what would it be?

Know your obligation

Now is not the time to try to shortchange an employee. Pay them for the entire notice period. If you feel that having the person work during that period might have a negative effect on staff or clients, opt to send them home instead. Even if the parting is amicable, a company has to protect its data, so remove security access appropriately and remind the employee that their obligations regarding confidentiality are still in effect. Unless the employee is antagonistic, handle this process as cordially as possible. Regardless of whether they initiated it, remember that this is a separation for them as well.

Be proactive the next time

Identify top performers and value creators and make sure they are adequately compensated, challenged and experiencing high job satisfaction. Check in with them on a regular basis. A manager or executive should use this situation to take an honest look at their own leadership styles and performance management systems. Do you coach for the future, getting employees excited? Do you allow for open and honest dialogue and feedback?

Keep in mind that even in the best situations, resignations happen. When they do, having a proactive plan in place can help minimize the impact on your business. Remember, some turnover can be positive. While it might hurt at first, the upside is that it also allows for growth, new ideas and new ways of thinking.

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