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As the saying goes, the only way to ‘fire’ your boss is to quit. So when your team member leaves, it’s hard not to take it personally.
Will others see you as a bad leader? Or wonder what’s “wrong” with your team? How will you deliver results when you’re down a key team member? And what about the hassle of replacing them when you’re already pressed for time?
While these thoughts are natural, they’ll also keep you from realizing that it’s normal and even healthy to have turnover in a team. Like having kids grow up and leave home.
So when you have team member or two leave, by all means do a gut check on whether you or the culture are the problem they’re trying to escape. Then once you’ve made a plan to fix anything that needs fixing, recognize that there’s a silver lining.
There’s an upside to team members leaving, and here are three reasons it can be a good thing:
It was a particularly tough year for the business, and I had to let one of my country managers go. When I called his second in command in to say that she would now have to step up and take on the role, I was shocked by what she said.
“You won’t believe this, May, but I’ve been offered the country manager role for at our biggest competitor and was planning to come in tomorrow morning to resign. But now, I’m delighted to stay. Your timing is excellent.”
It was a wakeup call I’ll never forget. The second-in-command was a superstar we very much wanted to retain. I learned that people need to see a path for progression and when they don’t, the talented ones will leave first. I had dodged a bullet by less than 24 hours.
Whether it’s of their own volition or not, remember that when someone leaves your team, it creates opportunities for others to grow and satisfy their aspirations right where they are.
It also creates opportunities for you to re-envision the team and attract new people into the system. Which brings us to the next benefit.
While team stability has its benefits, in the extreme it becomes a liability. When you have the same people on the same team for a long time, things tend to stagnate. It’s like what they say about old married couples who can finish each other’s sentences and eventually take each other for granted.
Staying relevant in a world that’s constantly changing and uncertain means we all must innovate. And when you have new people joining your organization, they can provide that “breath of fresh air” that you didn’t even know you and your team needed.
When one of Donna’s team members was tapped to run a firmwide program, she was devastated. How would she find a decent replacement on short notice? It was a great opportunity for her team member but what would happen to the important projects she was leaving behind? Fortunately, Donna was able to get an internal transfer from another department. Someone who brought in a different way to approach clients that improved the team’s results.
But even without delivering a major innovation, when someone is new to your team, they automatically add value. That’s because they bring a fresh perspective. And to make sure you benefit from it, be sure to ask for their observations on how the team operates and where they see opportunities for further improvement.
They’ll also have ways of doing things they’ve learned elsewhere that could be applied to what your team is doing. This ability to connect the dots and offer suggestions is what leads to innovation. You just have to make sure you and your team members are open to those different ideas and not immediately reject them as “that’s not how we do things here”.
So when a team member leaves, seize it as a golden opportunity to bring in someone new and different. And as hard as it is to imagine, they may be even better fit than the person who left.
And that brings us to the third benefit.
When you handle the leaving well, you create ambassadors for your group, department, and business… and yourself.
Think of it as having someone “on the inside” of another department or organization who can help you build bridges. And if those other groups were skeptical of your team before, you’ll now have someone who can vouch for you and position your efforts properly.
In other words, your departing team members become your future partners. For example, in the world of academic research, the norm is to train up your graduate students who then go off to different institutions where they can flourish and become future collaborators. And they are your ambassadors and even evangelists.
Whether your team member leaves for another role internally or to join a different organization, continuing the relationship will pay dividends.
Unless they’ve taken trade secrets, in which case it’s a legal situation, there’s a benefit to having a back channel into other groups or organizations. Even with competitors. You never know when there might be a common cause that makes sense to collaborate on. Like a charitable effort that the industry is promoting or pooling efforts into a risky new effort.
Ultimately, high achievers thrive on learning, growing and mastering new challenges. So if you can’t offer them an experience that stretches them or a clear path forward, you’ll be facing the same issue again.
If there are things you or they weren’t aware of that would change things, by all means reveal them and take action. But when you make someone go against their nature, it tends not to turn out well.
And a team member who’s dissatisfied or frustrated by lack of opportunity can’t help but create a negative energy that can poison the culture.
Instead, think like a leader. Assess the situation rationally, part on good terms, and tap into the benefits that come when a team member leaves:
Check out Career Mastery for more tips and strategies for managing your team.
— May Busch
This article originally appeared in MayBusch.com, then on Ladders.