How Do You Deal With Top Performers Who Resign?

Larry Sternberg on Thursday, October 25 2012, 06:52 PM
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It’s understandable that a leader feels unhappy when a top performer resigns. The employee is intentionally ending the relationship, so there is an element of personal rejection involved. In addition the leader now needs to replace that person, which could be a daunting challenge given that the person is a top performer. As a result, the employee who resigns is often treated poorly by the leader. And sometimes, after the employee has left, the leader speaks negatively about that person. What are the consequences of these types of behavior?

Remember, other employees pay close attention in these situations. Before the resignation it is likely that the leader spoke highly of this top performer. If that same leader speaks poorly about that person after he leaves, the LEADER’s reputation is diminished. Employees can readily see that such behavior is both unprofessional and unnecessary. Respect for the leader is diminished. Trust is diminished.

Consequently, employees worry that if they give a standard notice, the leader will terminate them immediately, causing economic hardship. So when they’re exploring career possibilities outside the company, they keep it secret. The resignation comes as an unpleasant surprise. This leads to a harsh response from the leader, which reinforces this destructive cycle of cause and effect.

How can you break this cycle?

First, rid yourself of the attitude that exploring career possibilities outside the company is an act of disloyalty. Let your people know that when career opportunities come to their attention it’s OK with you for them to explore these opportunities. They don’t have to hide it. If you really care about your people you’ll want the best for them (and for their families). There will be times when another company presents such a great opportunity that you cannot compete. Encourage people to speak with you about these opportunities. This gives you the chance to make changes that might cause them to stay.

Second, consider the resignation a sort of graduation. It’s likely that the investments you’ve made in this top performer have prepared them for this new position. They should leave with your blessing and sincere wishes for success in their new job. This type of response demonstrates that you genuinely want the best for that person, and it maintains your positive, supportive relationship. It might be well be the case that a year or two from now, you’ll have a terrific opportunity for this person. If your relationship is good you’ll be in a position to recruit them back.

What are the consequences of these types of behaviors?
1. Top performers will let you know when they’re looking, giving you an opportunity to better meet their needs. And you’ll be able to start thinking about how to replace that person if necessary.
2. You’ll avoid diminishing the trust and respect people have for you.
3. This person will speak positively about you in the community.
4. You’ll be in a position to recruit this person back.
5. Word will get around in your community that you invest in people so they can advance in their careers, and that you sincerely care about them as people. More people and better people will want to work for you. That’s the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow.

Thanks for reading. As always, I’d love to hear your comments.
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