What to do when a key member of your team is leaving

When a member of your team departs for a promotion, career change or internal transfer, it can be a difficult time. On the one hand, you want to wish them well and celebrate their progression, on the other, the thought of replacing them may fill you with dread. Replacing a key member of your team can be a long-drawn-out process in a competitive recruitment market, and slow recruitment also means there may be no handover and your remaining team will feel overworked.  

You can’t change the current recruitment market, but you can still lead a team who are a person down successfully. Here’s how:

Patch the hole:

The market is messy right now, with high churn. People are flowing out of companies like air out of a punctured tyre. They’re leaving for competitors, new industries and even totally different careers.

First up, you need to patch the hole, doing everything in your power to retain good people. Think about the benefits you offer, and the qualities of the job itself. Think about whether your salaries are competitive (look on Glassdoor to check) and if not, try to find the budget to correct it. It’s so much cheaper to retain staff, even at a premium, than lose them.

Be a good leader-manager

To create quality jobs, look at what makes a job great. Generally, people like to have autonomy and use a wide range of skills; they want to feel that their work matters and leads to outputs they can get behind; and that their mental and physical wellbeing are treated with respect. People also like quality feedback and good leader-managers.

Different people place an emphasis on different elements, so create an open dialogue with staff about what personally matters to them. And, if you’re feeling brave, ask them how likely they are to be here in two years’ time.

Implement a RAG system

Then you need to tackle the immediate problem of being a person short. Assuming you’re going to be allowed to recruit a replacement (nothing in your question suggests that there’s a recruitment freeze), then you’re looking for temporary solutions to cover their workload. You should consider implementing a RAG (Red, Amber, Green) system for their work. What can be stopped until their replacement joins? What can be put on hold for at least the next six weeks? What has to carry on regardless? When you divide their work into these boxes, don’t put too much in green. Survival mode is as much about making sure that others don’t leave due to stress as covering someone’s absence.

Anything on the red list can be held off until the new person starts. Red tasks actually make a great starting point for a new joiner as they’re not business critical and can help them to get a handle on things.

Resources to help you further

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