Happy New Year…I Quit!
I hear this story all the time. It is the first Friday morning of the year and things are going well. The weekend is close and your project is on track. You have the right budget, the right time-line and the right team in place. Just as you sip that perfect coffee, you know the one with the rare balance of coffee, cream, sugar, and heat…there is a soft knock at the door.
After a short, and awkward, five minutes, your top team member, the MVP of that project, has resigned. And your coffee’s cold.
Grab another cup! Your next move is very important!
What do you do? Many of my clients ask me this very question. In large part, the answer depends on the client. However, there are two universal tips I want to share, the most important of them is to let the team member go.
Let them go?!
Your first reaction is to counter the offer. I know it is…it always is. This is a mistake for two very important reasons. First, top talent is usually not motivated by money alone. Job satisfaction is a blend of many things, pay being a small part. A knee jerk offer of cash is an impersonal reaction and may confirm the reasons the candidate is leaving.
The other reason is the team left behind. People talk and when counter offers are given the team will find out. They ALWAYS find out. When they do, they will feel diminished. It lessens their value and sets the precedent that to get a raise you have to threaten to quit. In a small firm it could affect the entire firm! Regardless of size it affects the team culture in a negative way.
If the team member has taken the time to search, interview, accept a new job, and has told you about it, they are emotionally ready to move on. The reasons don’t matter, the decision is made. Respect it.
Your reaction is to be honest about your disappointment, wish them well, and ensure you have an in-depth exit interview to understand their reasons for leaving. Use the knowledge to make changes, if needed, in the firm.
Call Up the Bush League!
I get it. You now have a hole, a big hole, in your team. Who is going to do the great work now in your lap? Easy. Go to your bench.
Well, if you don’t have a bench you will want to call a recruiter (just kidding, sort-a).
Seriously, what I can share is how to develop a strong bench of talent. I believe that strong bench strength starts on the candidate’s first day. You have to start them on the right foot. Each new employee must know the following:
- What is their role? Why is it important to the firm and how can the employee do it to the best of their ability?
- Who are their team mates? What are their background, influences, etc.?
- Who is their mentor? What is the mentor’s background? What can they teach and what can they be taught?
- What projects do they need to be on? Share details, the more the better.
- What projects do they want to be on? Understand the new employee’s interests.
Developing a bench is not up to one person. It must be part of the firm’s culture. Again, a huge topic. For now, I want to share my perspective as a leader. Making employee development part of the firm’s culture starts with transparency. Be very open with the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to the company. Doing this creates buy-in and buy-in develops a feeling of ownership.
The feeling of ownership is the attitude your bench teams should have. When employees have ownership they are ready to step up! They understand there will be questions, a learning curve, and even some miss-steps, but they are happy to do it. They see the big picture and know this is an opportunity for their growth.
I understand these two points are very large and complex and take more than a blog post to outline. What I hope I have done is give you is a place to start when someone quits. Wish them well and have a team ready to step up.
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