It's a sad day when a valued employee hands in her resignation. And even if the departing employee was not a star performer, a resignation brings unwelcome disruption. How will the employee's work get done in the short-term? How will you find someone to take her place? What impact will the employee's departure have on the people she worked with?

As a result, it's not uncommon to feel angry that the resigning employee is "deserting us." And it's also not unusual for the employee's manager, HR, leaders and colleagues to act out: to suddenly be cold, distant and even mean.

This is not only juvenile--it's also very short-sighted. Yes, the employee is leaving (for what she believes are good reasons), but the relationship still continues, especially in the social-networked small world in which we live today. A resignation is actually an opportunity--a chance to influence the soon-to-be ex-employee to have a positive attitude about her soon-to-be former employer. If a transition is managed well, the potential is for the employee to:

  • Say positive things about the company's products or services
  • Recommend her former company to potential employees as a good place to work
  • Become a client
  • Return some day to become an employee again, bringing the valuable skills she learned while she was away

So how do you handle a resignation in a positive way? Since these events are usually a surprise, we recommend that you prepare in advance by creating a Guide to Successful Resignations. Provide the guide to managers, either ahead of time (as part of a manager's toolkit) or immediately after an employee tenders her resignation. This guide obviously needs to align with and support your HR policies. Here's a sample of what this manager's guide might include:

Step 1: Receiving the news

Have a one-on-one conversation with the employee:

  • Find out why he/she is leaving
  • Determine whether there is an opportunity to retain the employee (as in making a counter-offer)
  • Discuss the employee's preferred notice period, and whether there is flexibility to extend this period (if appropriate for the group's needs)
  • Agree on how communication to co-workers will be handled (There may be a few people with whom the employee has close relationships that he/she wants to tell personally.)

Consult with HR about open issues (notice period, counter-offer, etc.)

If appropriate, have a follow-up meeting with the employee.

Step 2: Managing the transition

As soon as possible, communicate with other employees in your group about the pending departure:

  • Face-to-face is best, such as during a staff meeting, but if necessary, send an e-mail.
  • Express regret that the employee is leaving, and thanks for his/her contribution
  • Articulate the transition plan

Work with the departing employee to communicate with other key stakeholders: customers/clients, vendors, etc.

Schedule meetings to transition the employee's responsibilities to colleagues.

Step 3: Saying good-bye

  • Arrange a send-off, appropriate to your company's policies and culture, from a pizza lunch to afternoon cookies to happy hour at a local pub.
  • Shake the employee's hand and thank him/her for all the ways he/she has made a contribution. Wish the employee luck.

Here's a key point to remember: Although it's natural to focus on the person who's leaving, it's critical to spend time and energy communicating to those who remain. After all, you want those employees to come to work tomorrow with a clear head and a positive attitude--not be weighed down because of the way a colleague's departure was handled.