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Exiting Employee? 5 Steps to a Smooth Transition

Nicole Fallon

When you receive a resignation notice from one of your top employees, there are likely a lot of thoughts that will run through your head. "I thought she was happy with her job." "How could she leave us at such a critical time?" "Can we afford to offer more money and make her stay?"

Once you've processed the news, however, you have to tackle the next inevitable challenge: making a smooth transition on any of the employee's ongoing projects.

"As a leader, you have to think of who the next person is that will take over [the exiting employee's] role," said John Addison, president and CEO of Addison Leadership Group. "You need to figure out if you need to reorganize duties and split them between people or if there is a logical person on your team that can step into that job."

If you've planned ahead and thought about a succession plan for this key employee, the transition should be a little easier, Addison said. But if you've been blindsided by the resignation and have no idea how to proceed, here's what you need to do in your employee's last two weeks with the company. [10 Signs Your Employee Is Ready to Quit]

Identify someone to shadow the exiting employee

Typically an employee gives two weeks' notice — sometimes even less — before his or her last day, and the clock starts ticking as soon as you're informed of his or her resignation. Even if this employee holds a unique position and tackles responsibilities that other staff members don't handle, you need to find someone within your existing pool who is competent enough to at least learn the ropes of the exiting employee's job, and hold down the fort as you search for a replacement.

When Lee, the general manager and vice president of a meat-processing supply company (who requested we omit his last name), recently had an employee of 10 years resign, he had another trusted manager work alongside the exiting manager during her final week to pick up key undocumented activities.

"The goal here was to have another manager be a conduit of information into and out of the team to the rest of the organization and a point person for both the team and the organization after she left," Lee said. "[The interim manager] is now the sounding board for the team when they are unsure, and she can direct the issues that be addressed by the team internally to the right resource."

Addison noted that a proactive, not a reactive, approach to this difficult task is best.

"The truth is, you need to be thinking about this every day because things happen and people move on," Addison said. "You should always be prepared with a plan and a list of names of people you can contact if you need a quick replacement. A great leader doesn't just know the people who report to them, but also has an inventory of other individuals' strengths and weaknesses."

Communicate plans with your remaining staff

Any employee's departure is going to affect your other employees in some way, whether it means a complete change in someone else's role or simply a morale hit to the team. Lee said that transparency with his remaining staff about these changes were key during this time of transition.

"I have been very transparent with the team as far the plans for hiring the replacement," Lee told Business News Daily in an email interview. "I have made a point to compliment the team on how well they are working together and reinforce the trust the organization has in them, and I have tried to be quick to respond to concerns."

However, he did note that it would have been beneficial to hold more meetings with the exiting employee before her last day. This would have built up the team's confidence and helped them better understand the plans for them after the employee left, Lee said.

Request the exiting employee's assistance

It's easy for an employee to mentally check out once he or she is in the "home stretch" of leaving the job, but that doesn't mean he or she should be slacking off. While you don't want to stress the employee out during his or her last two weeks on the job, it's reasonable for you as the employer to ask for his or her help. Addison noted that departing employees should want to assist their co-workers in taking over their job once they've left.

The biggest challenge many employers face when a staff member leaves is collecting the knowledge that person holds and passing it on to other staff members. You can ask the employee some of these types of questions to gather the information you need:

  • Can you outline your daily tasks and routine in easy-to-understand steps?
  • If you had to prioritize, what are the top three projects you're currently involved in that need to be picked up once you leave?
  • What files/information/contacts are necessary to make a seamless transition on these projects?
  • Can you provide some guidance and insight into the direction you would have taken on your projects had you stayed with the company?
  • How has your job evolved since you were hired? Can you write a basic job description based on your current duties so we can identify and hire a successor?
  • Are there any key items we should know about/address for any in-progress work?
  • Can we have a list of all your regular contacts so we can inform them of the staffing change?

Once you have the answers to these questions, centralize any associated files and instructions in your company's database so anyone who needs to take on the employee's tasks can access them.

Help the employee leave on a positive note

Even if the employee is leaving for an opportunity he or she is really excited about, it's likely that he or she will feel some of the tension surrounding the departure. Though you may be stressed and upset during this time, it's important not to take out your frustrations on the exiting employee. In fact, it's in your best interest to make his or her final days with the company as pleasant as possible.

"I had been advised not to overload the employee with tasks and ... [let her] leave on a great note," Lee said. "I made plans to have a final goodbye event on her last day … [at] a local brewery for food and drinks with her team. I gave a little speech going over what she had accomplished, what we had accomplished together to grow the business, how she had made a difference to the organization and personally how she had been a mentor and work partner to me."

Prepare for next time

It's never easy to lose an employee who was instrumental to your business, but it can and does happen. If you didn't have a plan this time around, use this experience as an opportunity to prepare yourself for the next time this occurs. Scott Grossman, COO of password management company Keeper Security, said employers should create a plan to reduce any negative impact to the flow and continuity of your operations.

"Every company will have turnover," Grossman said. "Have ... processes in place that allow for the sharing of responsibilities and collaboration with other team members so if someone leaves, others can pick up the slack, either on a permanent basis or while the company recruits a replacement — and an even better candidate — for that position."

"Any change gives you the opportunity to make your company better," Addison added. "You have to be ready to take the next steps to make the job better and to keep your division functioning."

For further information on what to do from a legal and professional standpoint when an employee resigns, visit Business News Daily's guide.

Image Credit: iTref/Shutterstock
Nicole Fallon Member
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.