In early June, I wrote a blog titled “When It’s Time to Help Someone Off the Bus,” addressing what to do when you recognize that someone on your team can’t or won’t get on board with the transformation you are working to influence in your organization. But what happens when someone on your team steps off the bus of his or her own accord? Chances are your first reaction is somewhere between anger and bewilderment, followed by the inevitable question, “Why didn’t I see this coming?” But then what?
Here are some suggestions on how to come to terms with what happened and move forward:
- First, accept the fact that it happened and that you saw it coming—you may have been in denial, but the signs were there. Whether subtle detachment, changes in working hours or frenetic focus, a change in the patterned behavior of a seasoned executive is a clue that something is amiss.
- Feel the full range of emotions that sudden turnover stirs up—betrayal, sadness, anger, hope, resignation, determination—any and all are fair game. Don’t try to do anything about your feelings, just feel them.
- After working through your feelings, evaluate what led to the individual’s departure. What was your contribution to the situation? What was the individual’s? Think back to when you hired or promoted this leader—did you have any reservations or fears? Any errors in judgment? Anything you would’ve done differently if given the chance?
- Avoid the temptation to immediately recruit to fill the open position. Appoint an interim leader or take whatever action needed to fill in the gap short-term.
- Take a step back to look at your strategy and evaluate your team in relationship to what you need to carry it out. What are the team’s strengths? What’s missing? What changes have you considered making but were reluctant to given the previous team dynamic? What changes will you make now that the dynamic has shifted? Engage the remaining team members in a discussion around needs as part of this process.
- Revise your team design as needed based on the outcomes of your assessment. Create a new position description, even if very little is changing in the role as it was previously defined. It is important to be very clear about both the job responsibilities and the characteristics of the ideal candidate.
- Begin the recruitment process having reasonable expectations for how long it may take to fill the role.
When all is said and done, give yourself permission to let go of the person who left the organization. Wish that person well in his or her new endeavors and welcome the unforeseen benefits the departure created.