Goodbye, Goodbye, I’m Leaving You, Goodbye…


If the title of this week’s post seems vaguely familiar, it’s because I’ve sort-of-stolen the title of a Peter Cook and Dudley Moore song…

…But no, I’m not leaving you. I’m thinking instead of the situation all employers will face at some time. One of your employees is going to say, ‘I need a word with you’ and tell you that they’re leaving.

Quite possibly you won’t have seen it coming. I remember working on 12 months’ plans and sales forecasts at Nestle when one of the key parts of those plans walked into my office and said she’d received a better offer. Not for one minute had I anticipated it.

For a while I took her resignation personally. Should I have seen it coming? Could I have managed her better? The reality was that she’d received a better offer; she was ready to move on and the new job better fitted her family circumstances. All I could do was wish her well.

So what should you do when it happens to you? You may be losing a key employee but you need to find a way of making it a positive for the business: here are six points that may help you do that.

Don’t take it personally. Salesmen: writers: actors. Everyone’s told not to take rejection personally and everyone finds it almost impossible to do. But the reality is that your soon-to-be-ex member of staff received a better offer or felt it was the right time to move on. And if they’re leaving to set up their own company what can you do except offer your congratulations and support? After all, that’s what you once did.

Learn from the experience. If you didn’t want this employee to leave, what could you have done differently/better? Were they sufficiently motivated? Could you have provided better working conditions? Very often these ‘softer’ factors are just as important as money – and with the new laws on flexible working that have just been introduced that’s not going to change.

Think hard before you make a counter-offer. In many ways this is the natural first reaction. But if my experience is anything to go by, don’t. It’s one of the lessons you should have learnt as a teenager – when a relationship is over, it’s over. And whether it’s your first girlfriend or one of your team, there’s no going back. I’ve made counter-offers and persuaded someone to stay twice in my working life. It didn’t work out either time: in both cases the employee still left and all we’d done in the interim was pay a higher salary.

Stay Positive. At some point the other members of staff need to be told – and the point here is to stay positive. Someone leaves – so someone else gets the chance to shine. And the way to de-motivate the entire team is to convey the ‘X has left. We’re all doomed’ message. You’re the leader and it’s your job to lead. Whether X has left or not, you’re still leading your troops to the Promised Land.

Look inside your own company. This has been a recurring theme of this blog. Your team – and the individual members of your team – are almost always capable of more than you think. So before you go outside the company for a replacement look inside the company. Very often someone you thought was irreplaceable leaves – and you find that not only were they very replaceable, they were also holding other people back.

Think hard about gardening leave. I know one very successful entrepreneur who has one inflexible rule. If someone is leaving – for whatever reason – they’re out of the door the same day. “Once they’ve decided to go, they’ve gone” is how he puts it, meaning that once they’ve handed in their notice their minds will be elsewhere and they’ll possibly do more harm than good. I’m not sure that I entirely agree with him: then again, his house does have a remarkably long drive…

No-one wants to see their key members of staff leave but it’s going to happen to all of us at some point. Hopefully the six suggestions/reflections above will help when one of your staff does come and ask for that quiet word…

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3 comments

  1. simonjhudson · September 5, 2014

    Yes, and yes.
    However the thing to remember is that if good people didn’t leave then there would be no good people to recruit.

    One man’s poison is another man’s meat, as it were.

    My experience is that most moves from good companies are absolutely for non-work reasons – relationships, travel, lifestyle, personal aspirations. There is almost nothing you can do about those other than wish them the very best and let them know the door remains open for them if you want them back. But it is always worth checking that the reasons are not work related – sometimes it isn’t them, it’s you.

  2. Jo @ Castle · September 5, 2014

    Good tips, certainly the new flexible working rules will be becoming more and more readily exercised by employees in the future, with employers needing to review any requests for flexible working, so we’re in for a period of adjustment and negotiation. There’ll be plenty of bumps along the way but I’m convinced companies that really embrace flexible working will benefit in the long run – we discussed this ourselves in the Castle Blog recently http://bit.ly/1s71W85

  3. Michelle Mook · September 5, 2014

    Another great blog Ed with some good advice for anyone with staff. I think your point about looking internally is also one very close to my heart. Someone leaving often brings a fantastic opportunity for someone else, particularly with SMEs where such opportunities can be few and far between.

    We would also really encourage employers, no matter how small or large, to have a robust succession plan in place, where you have identified where your key risks are both from individual skills and also risk to the business and look at both short and long terms plans to address any gaps.

    At least, then if you get that situation, you’ve started to plan for it as much as possible.

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