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What to Do When Your Star Talent Leaves

Here's how to think constructively and proactively to make the inevitable a little less painful. By ICPAS Staff | Digital Exclusive

Business Exit

No-one wants to say goodbye to star talent, but these five strategies will help you handle the unexpected—and minimize its negative impact on your business.

1. Conduct an exit interview 

What you learn from an exit interview can be invaluable. The trick is to focus your questions on areas that can help you improve the organization and maximize its performance. Look for patterns that relate to job performance, so that better-qualified and better-suited candidates can be hired. Also, you’ll gain a detailed and accurate picture of the position, which give you the knowledge you need to find just the right fit, and lessen the chances of under- or overstating duties and therefore disappointing or raising the hackles of incoming hires.

2. Maintain a good relationship 

Handling the exit of a key employee with finesse will set the stage for a smoother transition. An insightful departing employee understands that maintaining a relationship with his or her former employers will help them navigate a successful career in the long run. Therefore, shelf any feelings of disloyalty, and open up communication to gain valuable knowledge about the position from the person who knows it best and to set an example to remaining staff. Handle a resignation poorly, and your team members may be tempted to head for the door as well.

3. Keep them on as a consultant 

Consider presenting the exiting employee with a formal consulting arrangement. Even though in most situations this person is leaving to take on a full-time position elsewhere, it is possible that he or she is open to the idea of a part-time arrangement for a short period. Note, that the operative word here is “formal.” Approach the exiting employee with a defined written agreement, including timeframe, meeting dates, specific areas of consulting, training and compensation. This not only buys you time to find just the right replacement and ensure business continuity, but it also offers the opportunity to quickly bring the new hire up to speed—if the former employee/consultant is open to helping to train.

4. Hire outside expertise

If a consulting agreement is not an option, consider hiring a professional consultant or a temporary employee. A consultant can either be self-employed or contracted through a third party, and is typically hired for his or her highly technical skills and knowledge. The advantage is that consultants often hit the ground running with minimal ramp-up time, and can commit to the company for a predetermined period.

While a temporary employee is less costly and more flexible, this option is best suited to a role that doesn’t require decision-making or technical expertise, since the learning curve will be greater. Temporary employees are just that—temporary. Nearly all are searching for the right permanent position and will commit to a project only until the right opportunity presents itself. They typically give one to two weeks notice before moving on.

5. Promote from within 

The departure of a key employee often forces management to re-evaluate current procedures and workflow, which can lead to positive changes within the organization. First and foremost, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of current staff members and redesign responsibilities around their talents and aspirations. You may well find that the old responsibilities of the exiting employee have entirely changed for the incoming hire. Even better, an existing junior leader in the organization may be ready to step up to the next level. Not only are you sending a positive message to staff—we do promote—but you’re also in the position of finding a replacement for a less strategically important role.

The #! Question: Are You Prepared? 

Job descriptions: Make sure that job descriptions are updated routinely, so that any new or changing tasks are accurately recorded. Also keep up-to-date on any special training the employee has received, which may indicate a need to update the “required qualifications” section of the job description.

Job searching: Maintain a list of candidate resources, so that you can quickly advertise the availability of this soon-to-be vacant position. Compile data concerning top online job databases, recruiters with specialized knowledge of your industry or field, and “cold” letters received from job hunters over the last few months. Also maintain a list of potential temporary help and consultants, organized by area of expertise. Once compiled, make sure you update these lists regularly.

Exit interview questions: Compile a list of questions that will help target strategic information about the position and work culture.

Evaluate bench strength: In other words, evaluate your existing human capital. Strong bench strength indicates that staff has been cross-trained and targeted to step into key roles when needed.

Create a back-up plan: Smart companies will have already established a back-up plan for work coverage in case of sickness or emergency. The same principle should be applied to back-up planning. Furthermore, Maintain a detailed “manual of operations,” which fill-in in-house or outside help can refer to in order to refresh their memories or learn the procedures necessary for specific job functions.