A long-time client emailed me last week with news that one of her key employees abruptly gave notice due to a personal situation. She was devastated. We invested significant time shaping the job description and refining the vetting process to attract the top talent. We succeeded and landed a rock-star...and now she's gone. 

She's not alone. Employee turnover is the most stressful HR challenge facing leaders today. According to the 2015 SHRM/Globoforce Employee Recognition Survey, 40 percent of HR professionals cite employee retention/turnover as their top organizational challenge, followed by employee engagement.

Throughout my 15 years of leading  Information Experts, we experienced dozens of departures. It comes with the territory. Some were easier and less disruptive than others, but all of them leave ripple effects on operations, productivity, and morale. The "real" costs of turnover manifest in everything from hiring and training to customer service and employee engagement. The goal is to handle departures in such a way that minimizes the impact on all of these things.

To move my client through this change as easily & quickly as possible, we focused on:

  • Her initial mindset
  • Her role as a leader during difficulty
  • The organizational transition/physical separation of the employee

Developing a Mindset of Confidence

Speaking from experience, here are some normal reactions when a key employee decides to leave:

·        Feelings of panic, nausea, and wanting to hide under a rock.

·        Anger, and the desire to call this person many creative names.

·        Desire to shut the business so you don't have to deal with stressful situations ever again.

·        Self-doubt and deep hurt because of course this is totally personal, and you are an incompetent loser who has no business running a company.

Our strongest asset - or liability - is our mindset. To navigate any hurdle, we must approach it with confidence & courage, and not take it personally. Plus, we need a calm mind to develop effective solutions.

The first mindset shift is moving to acceptance, and pivoting quickly. One of the most precarious behaviors of business ownership is not accepting that a situation has changed.  Business owners don't have the luxury of wallowing in self-pity. They have to always be moving forward.

Employee turnover and separation is a common occurrence in any business, and business owners need to develop a thick skin to move through these situations.

Finally, most business decisions are not personal.

Calmly Leading Through a Storm

Leaders are always being watched. It's easy to navigate a ship in calm waters, but it takes a captain to navigate through a storm. My client had to show confidence and a plan of action. Her employees were looking to her - and to her reaction - to determine how they should process this disruption.

She had to balance honesty & transparency (yes this was very upsetting and she was worried about the personal state of the employee) with an unemotional plan of action (we wish this didn't occur but we need to keep moving).   It is challenging to strike a balance between compassion and detachment.

Ensuring a Smooth Transition to the New Normal

The last element we worked on was the transition. It's always good to keep doors open. We created options for this employee to transition out with a scaled-back schedule on a consulting basis while we jump-started the recruiting process.

We never know how our paths will cross with others down the road, so the more compassion we can bring to any situation, the better it is for everyone. Malice has no place in leadership.  We may disagree with others, and others may wrong us, but we have the choice to decide our responses.

Sometimes it's difficult to take the high road, and wrap up a painful transition graciously. As a general rule, however, this approach serves everyone better in the long run.

The Upside

"Better" is what awaits us on the other side of change.  

I put a process in place for my client to refine the job description based on where they are now, and where they want to go. The role expanded, and the position title changed (which affects the candidate pool).

My client's mindset shifted from fear to excitement about what the new employee will bring to the company. She's ready to embrace whatever comes her way.

Mindset. Leadership. Transition.  These are the three elements all leaders must address when pivoting through a difficult change.