How Should You Handle an Employee Resigning at a Critical Time?

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Leaving Today’s question comes from a busy business owner:

How would you handle an employee resigning during a critical time period?

My client came to me desperately when an employee of his resigned last week with only one month notice. His resignation came very suddenly, and a little suspiciously: this employee had a lot of critical deliverables on his plate for the next two months.

The resignation poses three major problems for my client: he feels his company will not be able complete these deliverables on time without this employee; he is angry because it seems the employee is running away from responsibility; and he is worried because, even if he finds a new quickly employee, that employee will still need some time to train and learn the ropes before taking on the tasks left behind by the old employee.

My client is at loss. He started the recruitment process immediately, but we all knew it is not easy to find someone exceptional very quickly. I’m in a very tough position as well, as I feel his pain and understand he needs to find someone to fill the position as soon as possible.

What would you do if you were facing this situation?

Don’t Panic

The first thing you should do is not feed your client’s panic. This is no different from someone having to leave the office for an emergency, or the team accepting another high-profile project when it already has a full plate. In short: this is a project management issue, and you should approach the client in a calm manner.

And, in my opinion, it’s not logical to try to force the resigning employee — who is already burnt out and ready to leave — to train a replacement and complete two months’ worth of work in 20 days. I don’t feel that’s a winning game plan.

Instead, it’s time to devise your handoff plan. Have the resigning employee document their current processes and the items left on their to-do lists. Determine which team members will handle the remaining to-do items. Those team members are now part of the hand-off process. They take over now, while the resigning employee is still available to consult.

I don’t know the industry or market you are working in, so the other solutions I can offer will be general in nature.

ResignationRegardless of the industry, it’s likely that your schedule will be affected. To address this, you either need to add resources to your team, reduce the scope of your project, extend your deadlines, or adjust the planned final project in some way.

You have several options, from a project-management standpoint:

  1. Reduce the scope of the deliverables to fit your current resources.
  2. Reduce the complexity of the solution to fit your current resources.
  3. Release early and often to the end-user. Give the end-user early drafts, demos, and releases as the project progresses. If the end-user is frequently receiving and reviewing the project’s progress, they can tell you which features they really need by what dates, and which features they can wait on. Then, schedule the features as the user needs them (versus doing it all at once).
  4.  Studies show that end-users only use 36 percent of the entire product. Find out the features the end-user is actually going to use. Focus on those, and postpone the rest.
  5. Accept that, in reality, the product is never “done.” There are always going to be maintenance and improvement cycles. Use these rolling delivery cycles to your advantage by spacing out the work your team needs to do.

The Buddy System

My last tip is to never make someone “indispensable.” Implement pair-training, pair-testing, and a general “buddy system.” I am not saying that everyone has to be able to do the same things at the same quality, but you should have various team members who are knowledgeable about one another’s areas. That way, if need be, there’s always someone to stand in for a missing employee, or help out when things get tough.

A version of this article originally appeared on Laura Lee Rose’s Blog

Read more in Management Styles

Laura Lee Rose is a speaker and author. She is an expert in time and project management. Through her business coaching practice, she helps busy professionals and entrepreneurs create effective systems so that they can comfortably delegate to others, be more profitable, and have time to enjoy life, even if they don’t have time to learn new technology or train their staff.  She has a knack for turning big ideas into on-time and profitable projects.

If you are ready to transform your business from a 'business you need to support' into a 'business that supports you,' contact Laura at [email protected]