So, your team member has asked to catch up with you uncharacteristically. They walk into the meeting room with a folded piece of paper and you see the writing on the wall! They are resigning!
Here’s what not to do:
People leave businesses all the time. This doesn’t need to be a disaster, although I know that it can feel that way! Take a deep breath, gather your thoughts and repeat your get-you-through-the-sh*t-times mantra. Like everything in business, try not to take it too personally, but look at it as a learning opportunity for moving forward.
Unless that is the single reason why they are leaving, offering more money to someone who has agonised over the decision to leave will only delay the inevitable. No one is resigning from their job on a whim; especially a small business where they know, like and trust the people around them. It’s like breaking up with your family! So, if they’ve made the decision to move on, they’ve started to mentally disengage. While extra money might buy you another 3 or 6 months you want your people firmly on the bus, not still entertaining the idea of hopping off at the next stop!
If your employee doesn’t have a proposed action plan alongside their resignation letter, get a meeting booked asap with any key stakeholders to work through what needs to happen next. If it’s most appropriate for you to come up with the plan alone, then block out some time in those first 48 hours and get it done! Even a 4-week notice period goes quickly!
This one is especially important for service-based businesses, whether B2B or B2C. Once you have your plan in place, control the narrative and get on the front foot. Communicate early to your customers that will be impacted by this person leaving. For example, when someone comes in for their regular nail appointment with Julie, introduce them to Sarah who will be looking after Julie’s clients moving forward. Start building this new relationship early! If your employee has a notice period that means there isn’t time to wait for regular meetings to occur, pick up the phone! Check in with your customers to give them the ‘unfortunate for us, but great for Julie’ news that she is off to work on a cruise ship for a year. You get the gist! People understand that employees leave for a whole host of reasons, and if they can see that they are your priority during this transition, they will at least give you a chance to prove that Sarah is just as good as Julie!
During your action planning meeting, have a really good think about the hole this person will leave behind. Is it best their workload is distributed internally, and the salary saved for spending on systems or tech? When you really look at it, does the rest of the team have capacity to cope for the next 6 months? Do you actually need someone with more specialised skillset or particular experience to tackle that project that has been on the back burner? Replacing like for like straight away can be an easy trap. So, take some time to review your structure and maybe this resignation is a blessing in disguise to save some dollars, or move your business forward with the role you have been waiting for!
Understand why they are leaving and what you could have done better to help them stay. If that person is thinking and feeling this way, then it is possible that some or all of the remaining team might be in the same boat. During an Exit Interview or similar discussion ask questions with the intent to understand, not to defend your position. Even if you don’t agree with what they are saying, this is their experience of working in your business and to them it is real. Especially if the rest of the team know, or assume, the reasons someone is leaving, it is important to consider ways you could change/improve things for those who remain, and any new hires.
This will give the person leaving a bad taste in their mouth as they head out into the world of people asking them ‘Where did you work before here?’, ‘I thought you loved it there, why’d you leave?’ and ‘Oh, they look like they’ve got it going on, on social media. What’s it really like there’. But, probably more importantly, it will send a pretty clear message to the team that remain that you don’t really care about them as people, just as cogs in your machine. I know that isn’t how you really think about your people, but that is the perception when you shift from smiles and jokes to the cold shoulder as someone is transitioning out the door. Also, the world is small (some industries even smaller!) you never know where you will cross paths again!
DO take the time to reflect and reset. While there might be an initial period of pain, a change in the team is often a great line in the sand and who knows what opportunities might come your way now that you’re forced to be open to them!