5 steps when your team member resigns

She sidled nervously to me near the lifts as I waited for the friday rush to pass, averted her gaze, and simply said “Sorry I’m resigning, can I not work my notice period as the new company need me in a week?” She smiled wanly and waited for my response as I stared at whether to board the open lift.

If you’ve faced this or dread this, you’re not alone in not being prepared for employee resignations! Most managers are caught off guard by them, but there are a few simple principles to remember to make them go more smoothly.

Rather than suggesting you keep your ear to the ground, and ensure your team are happy in their work, I’d much rather give you a 5 step process for dealing with the unexpected as it will happen, and it will ruin your weekend.

1. Take the news well. You might be panicking inside about how are you going to deal with the vacancy as work is piling up, as well as finding a replacement and getting that person up to speed… all these thoughts will be coursing through your brain. You should not take this panic out on the employee. Getting angry or guilt-tripping her about their resignation isn’t appropriate nor professional. Instead, (deep breath) congratulate her on her new position and tell her that she’ll be missed. Remember, your other employees will hear about how you treat people who resign, and will take their cues accordingly.

2. Don’t make a counter-offer. We are often driven to an offer to counter the new role in a moment of panic (“We can’t lose Chee right now! We have that big project coming up!”).  In my experience they rarely work out well tactically or strategically. Tactically, your employee has made her decision to leave. If you try to lure her back with more money, you’re generally just retaining a dissatisfied employee, and kicking the problem down the road. Resist that urge. Strategically, if you set the precedent that to get a raise you must resign, then people will cue outside of your office with offers. If the person is that important, you should have been looking after them well before it cam to a competing job offer.

3. Discuss logistics right away. Agree when her last day will be, what she considers she can accomplish between now and then, and when and how she would like to announce her leaving to the rest of the team. If your employee is handling her resignation professionally and pleasantly – as most people do – you should leave it up to her to tell her colleagues (although make sure that happens soon, so that you can move forward with transition planning). And then inform HR when to make the internal announcement.  On the other hand, if she seems bitter or unhappy, you might choose to manage that announcement yourself so that you have some control over the tone and time.

4. Create a detailed transition plan with incentives (if appropriate). Sit down with your employee and make a list of everything she’s currently working on, including key client relationships. From there, agree (i) what she should complete before she departure and (ii) how you should consider handling those responsibilities before a replacement is hired within the team. For the former, make sure that your departing team member has a clear and specific to-do list, which should also include plans for transferring key knowledge and contacts before she goes, as well as how to alert outside contacts of her departure so that they aren’t surprised when an email to her bounces back one day. To ensure follow through consider an appropriate incentive for completion, should you think this necessary.

But don’t absolve ourself from responsibility once that plan is created. Set up a regular progress meeting and start to invite those who will temporarily replace her in as well, to ensure continuity. Please, don’t just trust that everything on that plan is getting done or you risk finding out on her last day that things aren’t being left in the shape you’d assumed.

5. Think about what you need in a replacement, and begin recruiting. Don’t just automatically post the same job description that you used last time. This is the perfect period to take some time to think about what you really need in the role and how it might have changed over time. Make sure that you’re hiring for what you need today, not what you needed when that ancient job description was first written. Focus on outcomes rather than inputs. Once you’re clear on that, switch to recruiting mode immediately – hiring the right person takes time, and generally the sooner you start, the better the result.

So, no need to be wary of employees coming to you 5, 6 7pm on a Friday, you have a great process to cope.

Have any of your team members recently resigned, how did you cope? Please share some of your experiences and learnings with us.