Why it's ok to let your best employees leave

Every manager will at some point in their career have that horrible surprise meeting when someone you work closely with, trust and often see as a ‘safe pair of hands’ hands in their notice.  If you’re lucky you might have seen it coming, but at worst it’s out of the blue and bowls you over.  But no matter how big the surprise, it’s sure to be closely followed by a raft of different emotions – fear for how you’ll cope without them, anger at them for ‘leaving you in the lurch’ and hopefully at least some understanding as to why they’ve taken that decision.

Emotions are however often overtaken by actions – or at least a plan of action – and the possibility of losing your best employee can often mean that the top of that action list is to try to change their mind and get them to stay.  But is that the right thing to do – for you, the company or indeed the individual?

How should we respond?

The reason people choose to leave jobs is pretty endless.  More pay, change of personal circumstance, career progression – whatever it is, to get to this point they’re likely to have given it a lot of thought.  Whilst it’s not always feasible (or best) to try to counter-offer or convince them otherwise, it is always worthwhile to try to learn – so the key thing to do is ask and LISTEN!  If there is something you can do immediately to get them to stay great, but if not maybe you’ll learn something anyway and become a better manager moving forward.

What might I learn?

No matter what their reason for leaving, we must also look at ourselves.  Not in how we’ve impacted their decision, but in why we are feeling the way we are about their imminent departure.

If you’re fearful of loosing their support, then have you really been valuing their input thus far?  And have you been showing or telling them just how much they help?  And rewarding them fairly for that input?  Have you enabled them to move on/up, or have you been guilty of keeping hold of them (potentially limiting their growth within the wider business as a result)?

If you are concerned that they will leave with a lot of knowledge of systems and processes, then have you been guilty of managing them in isolation up to this point?  Should you have taken the time to understand more fully just what it is they do? Or should you have got other team members to shadow them, so that knowledge was shared and this exact situation de-risked?

I don’t want to be critical…

I’m not saying all this to simply tell you you’ve been managing badly – anyone who works with someone great will miss them when they leave.  But at every crossroads, it’s useful to reflect on the journey so far, and critically look at how we can IMPROVE as we navigate the road ahead.

So perhaps letting your best employee go is a chance to tweak your management style a little moving forward?  It’s not a magic bullet, and you WILL have staff leave again – but at least when they do at least you might feel a bit better about it.

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