By Michael Gunther

One of my employees just gave notice. He was a great team player and a valuable asset to the company, but now he has a desire to move to a larger city with the potential of working for a larger organization. How can I not support his goal – he is young and full of energy and should reach for his dreams however he has defined them.

Employee transitions are never easy, whether they’re planned changes or unexpected ones. I always feel a sense a loss – an individual you’ve enjoyed working with, who has been an integral part of your team will no longer be part of your daily work life. And when you have a close knit team as we do, the change always has a greater impact. I question whether there are things we could improve upon as a company to ensure our employees remain long term. I always evaluate how I could improve my management skills or internal systems to maintain a solid team.

But then I remember one of my mentors from many years ago, who told me these transitions are opportunities to discover new talented individuals to bring into your company. In addition, it provides the opportunity to redefine the role and position, since often it changes over time.

As great as this all sounds, I realize we also have the task of locating and training this new person. It could potentially take several months just to find the right individual, and then another three to six months to get them up and running. I think this is probably the area that stresses me out more than the actual change itself.

In order to alleviate some of this stress, I recommend always being prepared for a change. We have a “HR pipeline” – a tool we created that keeps track of individuals who have been interested in joining our firm prior to us having an opening, as well as individuals we know in the community who we think would be a great fit for our firm. This allows us to begin the recruiting process quickly, even prior to placing an advertisement for the position.

Having a clear job description ready to go is also key – we update our roles annually so we can quickly understand the skills, characteristics and experience we believe we will need in this new person. Just with these simple tools, we can be on our way to finding a replacement, even within a day of the notice of our employee’s transition.

Maintaining a positive ongoing relationship with the employee who is leaving can be a challenging path during this time. Emotions are typically running high on both sides and both parties probably are feeling a little frustrated or hurt. The key is strong communication throughout the process with the goal of maintaining a solid relationship even after the employee/employer relationship ends.

Recently, we were coaching a client through the process of hiring a new employee, and the top candidate was an employee of our client’s friend and competitor. Our client instructed the potential new employee to let her current employer know of their desire to change jobs. Both business owners ended up talking and they made the transition much easier for everyone involved. It wasn’t personal; the organizations just had different directions and goals, so the owners understood the transition. Interesting note: our client, who was doing the initial hiring, ended up finding a candidate for her friend/competitor to replace the employee. Now both companies and employees are happy and it was a smooth transition for all concerned.

The Bottom Line

As a business owner and manager for over 25 years I have seen my fair share of employee transitions. The key is to be prepared to react quickly to make your team whole again and to be open about finding an individual who will bring a new level of skill and talent to your team. Remember to maintain strong communication with the outgoing employee, because at the end of the day, relationships are what really matter.

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