Losing the Good Ones (the sun will rise tomorrow)

Losing the Good Ones

I was at a going-away drinks party for one of the senior managers of our company who was leaving voluntarily for a new opportunity and the managing director made a toast to the soon-to-be ex-employee. He said that it was unfortunate that Mr. T was leaving and wished him well. He went on the say that it is normally the case that only the good ones leave. While the rest of us in the group who were remaining with the company were not easily offended, this was not exactly a motivating speech

Clearly, any company will be more successful competing against its rivals when it has a staff of brilliant, skilled people. There is no point denying that it is equally true that nothing stays the same forever and your company will lose what appear to be their most critical assets every so often. And even if you are in a company that does not have any specific change program underway, change will happen all by itself. Amazing really!

When people leave a company, there may be gaps left behind. This can be disruptive, but all that companies need to do to absorb the loss is to get on with filling the void. Some employees will be more restless than others, and thoughts of where they can flourish better or earn more money or have a bigger position or more responsibility are never far from their minds. As a manager, you must accept the inevitability that you will to lose some good people every now and then, and be ready for it. When they leave, thank them for their work in your company, learn exactly why they are going, learn from it, and wish them good luck.

I also like to remind people that times do change and that if they decide they’d like to come back one day, there will be no penalty, no foul (See I can do sports stuff, too). Good is good and every company will always want good people on its side.

You have all heard the stories told that “if So-and-so leaves the company or team, we are in big trouble; the projects will go down the tubes, and the customers will be unhappy and abandon us.” Experience has taught every manager that there will be hiccups when people leave. However, it is rarely ever disruptive enough to bring a company, group, or project to its knees.

You have two choices when considering this inevitability: you can plan for it, or wait and handle it when it happens. I think that the latter may be what most people end up doing. Companies are so lean these days and there are so many “individual contributors” that you know you will get landed in difficulties if some of them were to leave. But, because money is not so freely flowing these days, few companies would allow you the financial flexibility to double up on the people you have identified as critical. The other people around these critical resources are probably already so over-stretched that any idle thoughts you have about cross-training them are pure fantasy. So, whether you want to admit it or not, you are often times forced to live with the situation of not knowing if or when someone or several people might leave. You can and should have contingency plans.

When that day comes, and the only person who understands that ancient computer system or has the combination to the safe or knows how to sweet-talk the client, says they are leaving, you have no choice but to thank them, give them a good send off, and get on with the rest of your day. In every case I have come across, the company was able to rally people to handle the transition and get back on track quickly, even when the departure came as a surprise. This is a great testament to the commitment of the people who absorbed the loss.

Do not be surprised to see the sun rising as usual the next morning.

Please send any comments to richard@levelplain.com