Great companies have a knack for keeping their employees so satisfied they rarely want to leave. As a result, they have little turnover. However, all companies, even the best, will experience a departing team member at some point. When faced with a personnel change, any team will be challenged, but when it’s a key executive the change can be devastating. With improper handling, this can set your organization back significantly.
Here are four ways to ensure that when a key leader moves on, your team will be able to deal with the transition:
1. Embrace a healthy level of transparency.
Anytime an employee leaves a company, the rumor mill kicks into overdrive, even in healthy cultures. It’s human nature to wonder and to ask, why? This curiosity is proportionate to the departing employee’s position and tenure with the company.
Know that when a key executive leaves, it needs careful management – perhaps the most damaging thing an executive team can do is to gloss over the change. The optics of silence are infinitely worse than healthy discussion.
It’s natural for your team to be inquisitive and often necessary for them to understand how this change fits into the big picture. While it may be inappropriate to discuss the particulars of why an executive is leaving, it is crucial to discuss what the plan moving forward is. How a change in the organization will impact the individuals on the team is what will be on top of everyone’s mind. This is where the team needs reassurance from its leadership branch that there is a plan and that things will be ok.
2. Talk to the most impacted parties one on one.
Of course, those who reported directly to the exiting leader will feel strongest about the change. Some may have an emotional or personal response, particularly if their former boss was well liked. It’s of critical importance to speak personally to anyone who worked closely with the departing executive. It’s so crucial, that if in doubt, widen the circle and speak to a bigger number of team members one on one.
Many team members simply will want an opportunity to voice their opinions or to ask questions. Even if they don’t feel strongly either way, they will appreciate that you took the time to keep them informed. They will feel like “insiders,” rather than out of the loop. Other team members also will want to know how the change will impact them. The honest answer in the moment may be, “I don’t know,” but it is nonetheless important to reassure them that things will be alright -- and that they will be included in the process to figure out the next steps. A brief proactive conversation with key individuals early on will help avoid more difficult ones in the future.
3. Ask, what can be learned?
When an executive departs, it’s important for the top executives to understand why. And if it was a leader they wanted to stay, what, if anything, could they have done to prevent the departure? Executive turnover can be a tremendously taxing experience for a company to go through. While some change is probably both inevitable and healthy, too much can cause turmoil. Learning from the experience of the moment can be most beneficial as new talent joins the leadership suite.
Was the executive given enough freedom, the proper resources or opportunities for more responsibility? Honestly assessing these questions can help you position their replacement for success.
4. Rally your executive team together.
Even if a replacement officer is immediately in the wings, it’s likely they will need some assistance as they transition into their new responsibilities. This provides a great opportunity for your entire executive suite to come together to share in the work and to welcome the newest leader. While this temporary shift in duties is necessary in the short term, you may also discover that long term, it can make sense to shuffle some responsibilities around based on the new team dynamic and individual skill sets.
At first glance, the restructuring of your leadership team may feel like a burden or obstacle. While undoubtedly it will present additional challenges, it can also be an opportunity to evaluate your past and explore ways to make the organization stronger in the future.