Saying Goodbye to Top Talent: Removing the element of surprise

May 1, 2012 Bryan Benjamin

Saying Goodbye to Top Talent: Removing the element of surprise

Bryan Benjamin, Principal, Leadership Solutions, Knightsbridge Human Capital Solutions

Any time a valued employee departs an organization, it can trigger a seemingly endless wave of disruptions and distractions. Who will manage the key client accounts? How long will it take to fill the role? How will the remaining employees react? In the end, whether you were surprised or not by the departure, it is how you respond that matters most.

The frustrations and concerns that often accompany transitions are valid, but what’s more important is how you overcome these challenges by not giving into short-term emotion and keeping your eye on the long-term continuity of your team, department, and organization. The best organizations realize they will lose employees at one time or another and they’re prepared to say goodbye with decorum so that they can focus on seamlessly transitioning in new individuals. Many top organizations actually invite a certain level of turnover because they understand that new blood helps introduce new perspectives and ideas.

Of course, not all departures are created equally. You are likely going to feel very differently if an employee who is not particularly well liked or has performance shortcomings is leaving instead of, say, a top talent who you consider to be integral to your future success. Whether or not the departing employee is headed to a direct competitor will also govern how the departure is handled and viewed within the organization.

Departures are a reality, so how can you guard against the element of surprise and mitigate disruption when losing a valued employee?

Good employee engagement and career management strategies are designed to alert you early on as to whether there is a flight risk. In fact, this is one of the chief benefits of having ongoing, focused development conversations with your employees.

In these discussions, employees should be encouraged to talk openly about their current performance and future aspirations. These conversations will also give you the opportunity to provide feedback and level-set based on available opportunities and the potential you see. This kind of exchange may not prevent all employees from seeking new opportunities, but it will help you predict which employees could be next to leave and allow you to make more informed decisions about your future talent requirements.

Here are 4 tactics to help you effectively manage talent leaving your organization:

  1. Remember that there is no boilerplate, no one-size-fits-all approach to this challenge. Treat each situation as unique. However, be consistent.  The way you handle departing employees will be closely monitored and noted by those who remain.
  2. Get out in front before it becomes a problem. To avoid shocks to your organization, be proactive and engage all employees in regular career discussions. These discussions pay off in many different ways and are invaluable opportunities to stay on the same page with your key employees.
  3. Don’t deny the obvious. Following a departure, try to be as open as possible with the remaining employees about why the departure occurred. Obviously, you can’t share all details. But if you don’t provide some context, they will make up their own stories and theories about why someone left.
  4. Don’t universally write off departed employees. It’s easy to close the book forever on someone after they leave of their own volition. The best organizations know that former employees can become great advocates, referral sources for new hires, and even future clients.

Although it sounds like a worn-out adage, it’s best to remember that when it comes to an employee departure, it’s not personal. It’s just business. 

About the Author

Bryan Benjamin

Bryan Benjamin is Managing Director of Talent & Leadership Development at Lee Hecht Harrison Knightsbridge. Over his 10 years with the organization, Bryan has specialized in the areas of leadership development, executive team effectiveness, strategic facilitation, talent development, and succession management.

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