Gut-Punched

May 27th 2014

Ask any managing partner how it feels when he or she gets word that a key team member is leaving the firm. They’ll often tell you it feels like a punch right to the gut. 

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They’ll also admit to being somewhat blind-sided. Managing partners have shared with me that they often thought the person who just resigned was actually doing fine in the firm. Sure, maybe the team member has had to work harder lately. Maybe he’s been a little less communicative. But generally the team member has been contributing, doing good work, and not causing any problems.

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Here’s what Managing Partner wants to scream at the departing Key Team Member:“What do you mean you’re leaving? You’re on the partner track. You’re doing great work. We’ve invested mountains of time, energy, and money in your career. And you’re leaving? What the hell?”

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Of course, Managing Partner doesn’t usually do that. Instead she sends out an Everyone Email announcing Key Team Member’s departure and wishing him or her well. Managing Partner then takes a big gulp and swallows the stress, the anger, the disappointment, and the hurt that are part of being a leader. 

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Managing Partner sighs heavily, instructs HR to begin the search for Key Team Member’s replacement, and then goes about dealing with the many other challenges of running a firm. There’s often not a whole lot more insight to Key Team Member’s departure than that. “It’s just the way things are,” sighs Managing Partner.

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Turnover of key team members is expensive. The last figure I read is that it costs 150% of an employee’s salary to find and train their replacement. Further, turnover rearranges the fabric of a team and how that team serves clients. It’s also emotionally costly for everyone when a key team member (especially one who is well liked) moves on.  

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Three things might help you avoid this pain:

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  1. Get your information on key employees first-hand. Don’t delegate this to HR, team leaders, or anyone else. Do it yourself. Develop close relationships with all your key players. Find opportunities to engage them in informal conversations. Know who they are as people. What motivates them? What doesn’t? Learning as much as you can about them while sharing something of yourself will help you develop their trust. And they’ll be more likely to let you know they’re thinking of jumping ship before they actually do.
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  3. Don’t rely on annual reviews or individual professional development plans to  reveal what’s really happening with your key team members. These are fabricated processes that do not lend themselves to candor.
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  5. Trust your gut. If you have been leading for more than a couple of years, you probably have good instincts about what’s going on with your team. Listen to those instincts. If you get a sense that someone seems a little off kilter, maybe a little more stressed or sad or walled-off than usual, you’re probably right. Act on your hunch.
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Whether you show it or not, as a good leader, you take turnover seriously and personally. It is painful to lose people you thought would be with you for a long time. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. But if you remain aware and engaged and deeply connected to your key team members, you have a chance to step in and alter not only their destiny, but yours.

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leadership, management, communication, employee retention

Comments



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Jennifer Blumer
05/28/2014 6:17am
Turnover is so hard, no matter who makes the decision! We are hiring now and it's an emotional drain. I'm excited about the next person but I know there is a ton of work in the upcoming months. \r\n\r\n\r\nRight on as usual!