What To Do When Your Best Employee Leaves

Marianne Page, creator Systems4Scale
Marianne Page, creator Systems4Scale

Marianne Page, creator Systems4Scale and author of Simple, Logical, Repeatable advises SME readers on how to address an employee’s departure and steps to minimise business disruption

It may well be your worst nightmare – your ‘best’ employee coming to you and telling you they’re leaving. So now what would you do?

Let’s think about this logically. No-one in your business should be irreplaceable. Your business should be flexible and agile enough to maintain consistent customer service in the absence of anyone in your team. The key to this is having simple, logical, and repeatable systems, having a ‘How to’ guide for completing any task that anyone can follow (within reason). If your best employee has jobs which ‘only they know how to do,’ then perhaps you should question whether they do have the best interests of the business at heart. A true star will share their knowledge and wish their peers to progress.

If you suddenly lose a person – whether they’re leaving or signed off for the long-term, your business therefore carries on seamlessly. There may be a time when in the short-term a manager needs to pitch in too, and of course there will be some stumbling and extra hours initially. This gives you breathing space to plan for the long-term absence, to decide whether you need to recruit or re-shuffle.

I’d start with asking them their reasons for leaving? There are so many reasons why they may be leaving, so you’ll have to make a judgement call regarding solving the problems forcing them to leave or letting them spread their wings to further their career, or follow their dreams elsewhere. Perhaps the most important question to ask yourself is ‘can I afford to offer them incentives to stay?’ If you can, then by all means work out a plan for them. If you’re increasing their salary, we recommend incorporating monthly performance reviews in the first few months to make sure that they are taking you seriously and genuinely pulling their weight. So often a salary increase can lead to complacency, and that’s the last thing you need.

If they decide to leave, use this as a valuable opportunity to learn from it. Put your pride aside and have a meeting with them, asking them for candour. If they offer valuable insights, act on it. You don’t want to lose more of your team for the same reasons, if you can prevent it.

Keeping good people doesn’t just come down to money. People want to feel involved, trusted, challenged and developed too. Here’s some simple ways to engage your team.

1. Tell them how you started and where you’re going; your ‘Why’
2. Develop them – train them both how to do their job well, and how to grow as people
3. Show them appreciation – thank them every day for a job well done
4. Hold regular ‘formal’ feedback sessions
5. Pay them well
6. Keep them up to date with how the business is doing and involve them in planning
7. Listen and act when they tell you about blocks to their performing well
8. Challenge them to achieve goals rather than working long hours
9. Treat them as adults, don’t patronise them or micromanage them
10. Celebrate wins big and small – with cakes or a meal out, or maybe with a visit to an interesting customer

In the words of Simon Sinek, author of ‘Start with Why’, “When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”