Replacing a valued employee can be a difficult transition for small offices. However, it is an opportunity to inject new energy and improve the office environment. Here are some suggestions to smoothly manage the departure of a key staff member.
Assure remaining staff that things are under control
A departing staff member, particularly a valuable one, can cause panic in a small office. Staff may be worried about the tasks or files they may need to take over or concerned about the direction of the firm without a key staff member. Before these feelings snowball, talk to your employees to alleviate any anxiety they may have over the departure. Share with them what steps are being taken to replace the departing employee, the transition plan for files and duties and express appreciation for their efforts during the transition.
Reconnect with your staff
Running a small, busy practice likely means that you are not dedicating a human-resources-department level of attention to your employees. This may result in you assuming everything is fine and overlooking detrimental forces acting on your staff’s productivity and morale.
The departure of a valuable employee is an opportunity to speak to existing staff to obtain an honest assessment of what their needs are and how they think the firm can improve. In addition to making staff feel their input is valued, this will help identify potential problem areas to address.
Often, employers become part of the problem for employees and not part of a solution. This can range from the feeling of being underpaid to resentment over being micromanaged or underappreciated. The departure of a valued employee can be an opportunity to communicate to remaining staff that you can help them find solutions to their problems.
Discuss your staff’s current needs, expectations and challenges, both professionally and personally, as much as possible. While you will not be able to solve all problems for staff, at least recognizing the issues provides a starting point to empathize with their position. Further, understanding their challenges can better prepare you for the future. If it is something that can be fixed internally at the office, you can take steps to do so. If it is external, such as staff considering returning to school to increase career prospects, the sharing of this information will, at least, give you a rough timeline for developing a succession plan.
Talk to departing staff
Conduct an exit interview with a departing staff member to discuss their experience and any feedback they might have for improving the firm. If you have a good relationship with them, they may be more honest than current staff, given that they are leaving and not worried about upsetting you.
Preparing for the future
Departing staff is an inevitability for any employer. While this may be particularly painful for a small firm, it is a reality for which we should always be preparing, whether it is grooming a current employee or keeping an eye out for future employees. As with any business entity, succession planning is not just preparing for the owner’s exit, it is also succession planning for key staff members.