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Five Executive Coaching Tips To Handling Employee Resignations

The month of January for many organizations represents the beginning of a new budget year. With the beginning of the new calendar leaders and managers look forward to tackling action items such as new programs, project launches, etc.. 

One action item that leaders and managers do not look forward to is developing a plan after an employee resigns. This task can be especially hard when the departing employee is a valuable part of the team.

While the resignations can be disruptive they can also represent opportunities to distill the institutional knowledge, infuse a renewed sense of excitement and create an orderly transition. Here are five executive coaching tips on how to best handle the unwanted resignations.

One of the year beginning activities that I have never looked forward to is when valuable members of the team turn in their resignations. You know that it is going to happen but it still is depressing when they arrive. Here are five tips that our executive coaching team uses to advise our clients on how to best handle the situation.

1. Review your succession plan and see what options are available

Departures are always reminders that succession planning is vital. An effective succession plan can minimize the disruption and create an orderly transition. Departures is when effective succession planning can be really helpful.

When our executive coaches work with a firm that does not  have a formal succession plan we tell them  to do a quick nine box exercise to determine employees who have the right fit or to leverage their external network to get discussions going with viable outside candidates. Speed is essential since the firm will usually only have two weeks to get a plan in place.

2. Meet with the exiting employee to create a transition plan.
Capturing the essential information for job performance success is essential when an employee leaves their position. Many times managers will ask for a “how to” manual. This is not advised. It can be too difficult to create and in some situations the departing employee may actively resist..

Rebecca Knight in her Harvard Business Review blog “The Right Way to Off board A Departing Employee” quotes John Sullivan of San Francisco State University as saying:

Sullivan is skeptical of off-boarding processes that require the departing employee to compose a hefty “here’s-how-to-do-my-job manual.” Too often, he says, “the person doesn’t bother to write it up, and even when he does, no one ever reads it.” Selective recordkeeping can be helpful, however. Leonard recommends that apprentices and team members trying to capture the expert’s knowledge keep “learning logs” of information that, in some cases, can later be “entered into a database.”

3. Be open and encourage remaining employee feedback on what the departure means to them
Departures give all of the remaining employees an opportunity to do a self-assessment to see where they are in their career.They will ask themselves how happy they are, should they leave, and what career options they have by staying. This is very normal and expected behavior.

I have been in organizations where managers will try to ignore the elephant in the room by not recognizing  the departure and not be empathetic to effect that it has on the rest of the team. It is far more positive to address the issue directly and be open to hearing what their thoughts are.

Consider all of the possible things that employees may be thinking:

  1. They could be wanting to be considered for the open position
  2. They can have worries about how the change will impact their productivity or career path
  3. They are now facing distractions from within (gossip, rumors, etc.).

Smart HR leaders need to recognize that a departure will put all of these wheels in motion and keep an open door communication policy in place so that they can address the concerns of the remaining employees.

4. Take a fresh approach to the role of the departing employee to see if the responsibilities can be handled differently.

A departure can present an opportunity for the organization to rethink roles and responsibilities. This can be seen when a long term employee leaves. During their tenure in the job their role most likely evolved and the scope of the position changed. A departure is an ideal time to revisit the job description and see what is needed in the role today and think about possible reallocation of responsibilities within the remaining team.

5. Maintain a positive relationship with the employee during the transition. The relationship moving forward can be beneficial
Business in the 21st century is about relationships and developing strategic alliances. Departing employees should not be treated as traitors but a future partners, advocates and referrals. This may be tough when someone leaves to go to a competitor but there are many examples where positive relationships will still provide long term benefit.

Here is another quote from the Rebecca Knight HBR blog that explains why maintaining relationships with departing employees is critical

The best way to retain the expertise of a departing star employee is to maintain a relationship with her. You might go to her with the occasional question, engage her as a consultant or hire her back someday. So set the right tone during the off-boarding process, says Sullivan. Even if you don’t work together again, she still serves as a brand ambassador who could refer business or job candidates, he says. “Don’t accuse people of disloyalty for leaving,” he says. “Let them know you love them and that you want to keep in touch. It’s not an exit, it’s the beginning of the next phase,” he says. Leonard concurs: “People who are leaving a company want to feel good about [the place they’re leaving].”

It is January and some employee resignations may have already arrived on your desk. There is a smart and proactive way to address the change so that the organization can adapt quickly and move forward in a positive way,