You take your leadership responsibilities seriously and invest a significant amount of your time in mentoring, coaching and developing the people who report to you. You have a harmonious team, they work well together, they have had some lows, a fair few highs and they generally deliver the required results on time and within budget.
There comes a time when ambitious individuals feel that they need to move on in order to progress, no matter how much fun and satisfaction their current position gives them. Logically, the high performers are those who are thinking at least one career step ahead and if you or your company cannot deliver that opportunity for promotion then they will, sooner or later, leave. And they probably leave before the others in the team.
Generally speaking their resignation comes at a time when least expected and least convenient. So what to do? How to react?
At this time it is difficult to remember that you should feel proud. After all, you have been an instrumental part in developing this individual and ready them for making the next step in their career. But no, depending on what type of leader you are usually the things that go through your mind range from:
- After all I have done for him/her!
- How can they do this to me?
- This is the worst possible time for them to resign.
- Let me make a counter offer.
- Maybe it is just a ploy to get a salary increase.
- When did they go for interviews? When they had a dentist appointment?
- What am I going to do?
- How are we going to cover their work?
- What will this do to team morale?
- Who is next?
- How can I stop this from happening?
- Congratulations! That is a great opportunity for them.
- How can I make the transition for them (and the remaining team) as smooth as possible?
- Can this be an opportunity for some of the others to take on more responsibility?
- How do we manage a structured hand over?
- What is most important to them now? How can I make that work in my favour?
- How best to replace this person? Do we need to replace, can the rest of the team cope for a while / step up?
We have to assume the person who resigns is a grown up, has weighed up all the pros and cons, and has made a considered decision. It is likely that they find resigning a hard thing to do.
Counter offers are an insult to their intelligence, do you really think that you can buy people?
Now is the time to muster a smile on your face, congratulate them, wish them luck and ask for a little time to work out a transition that works for both parties*. And, who knows, if it all goes to plan, you may even be able to release them earlier than their contractual notice period.
My view is that once someone has resigned, with the best will of the world you cannot keep them engaged for longer than a few months, after which they can become a bit of a distraction to the rest of the team and if you’re not careful, more will resign.
Once a transition plan has been worked out, buy a cake, have a team meeting, make the announcement and publicly congratulate, let it sink in and then share the plan of how this is going to work out for all concerned.
Communicate regularly, keep a sharp eye on progress, have regular update meetings and get the person out of the door in a timely and orderly fashion.
It will do you credit as a leader, it will hopefully minimise the impact on the rest of the team.
*Now is the time to call a head hunter(!)