I started my company a decade ago with my husband, a good friend, and my sister – who eventually quit.
As we grew from a scrappy team of four to an equally scrappy team of 14, my sister started to feel like the company was no longer a fit for her. I was hurt. It’s always hard when a key leader leaves, and it’s even harder when that leader is someone close to you. My sister and I remain best friends, but her departure was still a major shock to our team.
When important leaders quit, it can really disrupt your team’s day-to-day operations. However, a critical employee’s departure doesn’t have to derail everything. Here are a few of the crucial steps you should take as soon as one of your key leaders decides to move on:
Step 1: Schedule an Exit Interview
If a key leader decides to leave on their own terms, you want to find out why. Try to get a face-to-face exit interview on the calendar before the employee’s last day.
During the exit interview, you want to ask the following questions:
- Why are you choosing to leave?
- How could we have improved this situation before you decided to leave?
- Did we provide you with the tools and training you needed to complete your job to the best of your abilities?
- How would you describe the company culture in your department and across the company?
- If you were CEO, what three things would you change about the company?
Make sure you record this conversation, take notes, and file the answers. This way, you can make adjustments to organizational operations based on the departing leader’s responses. At the very least, you’ll gain insight into the true inner workings of your company from somebody who can call it like they see it.
Step 2: Draft a Clear Plan for the Company
Before you break the news of the leader’s exit to the rest of the company, plan out who will be taking over what responsibilities. Announcing that a key leader is leaving without any clear direction can hurt morale and productivity by kicking off a chain reaction of anxiety. It is your job to assure employees the company won’t crumble because of this person’s departure. It might seem obvious to you that every employee is replaceable, but your other employees may not think this way.
Step 3: Break the News to the Entire Team at the Same Time
Don’t feed gossip to the grapevine while you get your transition plan in order. As soon as you have a strategy in place for the weeks ahead, you have to share the news. Failing to make a proper announcement to the entire team, or disclosing information to people outside your company before informing your team, is an invitation for chaos. Plan what you’re going to say and how you’ll say it so that the news is easier to take.
Step 4: Bring in Support
Some of your team members will find the prospect of losing a leader overwhelming, so make sure they know you’ll support them.
If the departure means certain employees’ roles will be changing, be sure to offer these employees the training and resources they need to adapt to their new responsibilities. Designate time to work with your team members one on one to make sure they’re prepared for their new roles. In the short term, this process will take time away from your other responsibilities, but it will help save you time and money, and may even prevent additional turnover, in the long run.
Step 5: Keep Things Positive
The world isn’t over because you lost a key player. Sometimes, your employees just need to hear you say that. It takes some planning and forethought to prepare your team for the imminent departure of a key leader, but when you do, it’s easier for everyone to recalibrate quickly and move forward together.
Spin this negative into a positive. Prepare your team for the change, stop office gossip before it can even start, and train the successors to take on their new roles as best they can.
A version of this article originally appeared on Fast Company.