A challenge most managers fear is a valued team member sliding their letter of resignation across the desk.  Here’s what to do when someone quits.

Emotions can run and questions can fly. But a great leader knows how to make this less-than-ideal situation work for the betterment of the team, themselves and the one saying goodbye.

If our two previous blog entries (part 1, part 2) have shown anything, it’s that employees are on the move everywhere and managers need to be prepared for turnover. We’re glad you joined us here as we discuss three steps to make the transition easier on everyone.

1. Don’t Show Anger, Ask Questions Instead

Congratulate them! Your team member surely dreaded the conversation. It’s uncomfortable for everyone especially the one leaving.  So ease their mind and show how much you value them.  Congratulate them on their new journey and explore ways to make the best of their remaining time as part of your team.

But before you let them go wrap things up it’s wise to ask a few well framed questions:

  • Is there anything I can do to keep you?  –  There’s nothing that says “I value you” like this question.
  • What could I have done better as your manager?  –  Bring a dose of humility into the conversation and take the opportunity to grow.
  • How would you like to work together to transition your role?  –  This can turn emotion into productive energy and will help gain the needed buy-in for your team member to stay engaged until the end as they help transition their responsibilities to others.

It’s still important to nurture this relationship to make the transition go smoothly. You never know, you may be welcoming the top performer back in a higher level role or be working for them someday.

2. Frame the Situation for Others

Once the initial conversation is closed, share the news with your team (or company) quickly to avoid rumors or undue tension. When breaking the news to your team, describe the departure in a positive and realistic light.  Compliment the leaving leader, congratulate them on their move.  Budgets and strategy depending, promise what’s real, not imaginary, to your team. Highlight the opportunity for an internal promotion from the team. Or if no replacement is to be sought, emphasize the value of each team member that remains and acknowledge their increased work load as they absorb new responsibilities. Thank them for their commitment to the company mission and emphasize that their efforts alone make the mission possible. And don’t forget to shoulder some of the additional tasks yourself.

PS – This is also a great time to celebrate the departing employee with a small party or outing. Show the rest of your team you value them as an employee and as a person.

3. Decompress and Reflect

Sure it’s important to get your hiring plan in motion and make necessary adjustments within your team. However, it’s never too soon to start thinking about how to handle the next resignation, because it will happen again.

  • Did your questions during the exit interview yield helpful responses?
  • How can you approach concerns brought up by the departing employee?
  • Are there changes you can actively make to improve your team’s morale or engagement?
  • How can you better show appreciation for your people and, hopefully, retain them?

One option to answer the last question is to sit with each team member and discuss their career goals. Develop a plan to help them succeed within your company. Evaluate the company’s ability to help your employees reach their goals. If outside development opportunities are needed then go get them.

This discussion should help prevent you from being blindsided if another resignation letter finds its way into your hands. You should get a sense for each team member’s intentions moving forward and if they’re a “flight risk.”

You can throw weekly parties, develop employees and grow relationships, but it’s inevitable you’ll lose a key team member on occasion. Preparation is key. Having a plan in place and an understanding of the situation sets you up for continued success in the short and long term.

Good luck.