When a key person jumps ship


It happens to all of us at some point. Maybe we have even done it ourselves. What I am talking about is when a key person quits unexpectedly – they jump ship.

It could be a critical office manager in a remote location. It could be your CFO who has been there 20 years. Or it might be one of your “rising star” younger employees – someone you have mentored and promoted. The bottom line is they tell you they are going to leave. What matters now is how YOU react to the situation. Here are my thoughts:

  1. Recognize the emotions you could be having and get them under control. You may feel a sense of betrayal. Do not succumb to the temptation to assassinate the character of the person who is leaving! Many principals and managers of A/E firms seem to do this. They are obviously proud of their companies and it’s hard for them to understand why someone would leave so it must be the employee’s fault. Not good. Many times the person leaving – if it is upsetting – is someone who was perceived by others to be a good employee or co-worker. You will unnecessarily cause internal ill-will if you trash this individual. Stay calm!
  2. Communicate with your employees. Tell them what happened, what you know, and that you wish the person who is leaving the best of luck.
  3. Communicate with your clients.
  4. Take action. Just because it didn’t work out doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try again. And don’t let any grass grow under your feet. Try to look inside the company first for your replacement person if you can. The best candidate may be right in front of your nose.
  5. Stay positive. More than anything else, being positive – not letting your feelings of rejection take hold – is critical. Not everyone is the same and not every situation is perceived the same way by different people. Do some self-examination of what went wrong – pay heed to what you learn so you don’t repeat the same mistakes – and move on. Maybe what seems bad now will seem good later. It often works out that way – IF you can stay positive!

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s founder and CEO. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

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