When a senior person turns in their notice

Jun 05, 2017

We’ve all experienced it. It usually happens on a Monday but it could be Friday or any other day of the week. I’m talking about when one of your most senior people surprises you with turning in their notice to leave.

It’s usually explained by something that reveals little information. He or she is “leaving for a better opportunity,” and they “appreciate all you have done for them,” but not enough to stay! No matter the reason, this person is either GONE now or will be soon. The issue is what can you DO about it? The past is the past. What matters now is how will you move forward.

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Don’t make a counter offer. Making a counter offer is usually a mistake. Some firms will always attempt to throw more money at someone – make them new promises – in order to keep them on-board. But the truth is, that rarely, if ever, works out. There are about a million reasons. But first and foremost, someone held a gun to your head. It’s like a shotgun wedding. You aren’t getting married because you want to. Not good. On top of that, they already decided to leave. What makes you think that isn’t going to crop up again? And last, this sets a terrible precedent in the firm. Anytime someone wants to make more money all they have to do is turn in their notice.
  2. The most important thing is to immediately find a replacement for the person who is leaving. And if you can, the best place to find that person is on your current employee roster. Promotion from within – a real history of doing it – is always one of the keys to long-term success and the firm’s ability to keep people over time. But if you don’t have that ideal candidate inside, don’t let any grass grow under your feet finding someone from the outside. Too often firms act like they are so stunned they let weeks go by without even STARTING to look. No reason for that! Get on it now!
  3. Communicate with everyone else in the firm quickly, and move to shore up any of the people who worked directly with or under the person who is leaving. Many times, people on their way out the door attempt to recruit their underlings or co-workers to go with them. The best defense is a strong offense. Ask these people directly if they are considering leaving. If they need a pay boost or some new tools or a better workspace, give it to them quickly.
  4. Communicate with your clients immediately. Assure them all is well, you have someone specific or a number of other potential replacements on board, and that you wish old “so-and-so” the best in their future endeavors. Hold your head high, and avoid the temptation to trash talk the person who is leaving – no matter how justified it may seem to you.

Like any divorce – in business or in one’s personal life – if you keep your head high and concentrate on taking action, you will get through this problem. Always take the proverbial high road. When you do, things may turn out to be even better in the end!

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

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.