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Your Best Employee Just Resigned, Now What?

Posted by Bob Corlett on May 9, 2011

When one of your top people resigns, your reptile brain goes into overdrive. Your cheeks flush, your mind swirls with emotions- anger, surprise, disappointment, maybe even embarrassment — and questions, always the questions: “Uh Oh, is this going to make me look bad with my boss (or the board)?” or “Oh no, how are we ever going to stay on track with the new systems roll-out now?” or “How is the team going to take this? Are they going to wonder if they are fools for staying here? Is this going to start a talent exodus?” (Oh, that lovely reptile brain — so brilliantly designed to escape the threat of hungry predators, and yet so hilariously unsuited to the “threats” of modern office work).

And then, as you emerge from the swirl of your amygdala hijack you notice something … your soon to be ex-employee is still standing right in front of you. And you didn't hear a word she said in the past few minutes.

So you pull yourself together, summon your best manners and mutter some vaguely insincere well wishes. You ask her to keep it quiet until you form a plan (because you want to get out ahead of the company grapevine….which already had this news 2 weeks ago).

Then you close your office door and go into full-on damage control mode. You alert key people, start to divvy up the responsibilities and swing into executive action. You know that everyone else on your team is looking to you for decisive action. You are the boss doggone it, so you need to decide how to handle this.

Or do you?

Consider the possibility that a resignation is an opportunity.

  • An opportunity for other people to step up to more responsibility. Not because you assigned it, but because they wanted it and asked for it. Many people live in the shadow of a star performer.
  • An opportunity to improve the status quo – to rethink how to organize the work. Not your ideas of how to reorganize – but the team’s ideas – they might have been just waiting for an opportunity to rethink things.
  • A resignation is a “teachable moment” to allow the team to have some input into how things should work. It is a perfect time for innovation and creativity.

Never let a crisis go to waste.

Rarely are the affected employees consulted about how best to deal with the gap or told how valued they are. Sure, its business and it happens all the time. But just openly acknowledging the loss goes a long way to let employees know they are important.

You may take comfort in reading, "We Fired Our Top Talent. Best Decision We Ever Made."

To gain more perspective on performance management and employee turnover, visit "What Drives Employee Retention and Employee Turnover?"

Topics: Employee Turnover