When You Lose a Key Team Member

There are few guarantees in business, but at least one thing is for certain: At one time or another you will lose a key team member—whether it’s to another company or industry, to retirement or another life change, or to firing—and how you prepare for this and respond to it can make all the difference.

In other words, have a plan. Here are four steps to getting there:

Standardize your work. When you establish clear steps for performing each task that a job requires and train your team to follow them, you not only help ensure the quality of your work—you also create a system and a company that can sustain itself when you lose or add team members.

At Grunder Landscaping Co., we teach all of our crews to complete tasks in the same way, whether it’s how to plant an arborvitae or how to install steps, and we continue to reinforce these procedures through weekly and on-the-job training. We also have detailed forms and checklists for the tasks that need to be done at each site. If we lose a team member, others are already trained to step up and in, and new hires have a far easier time of learning the ropes because most of what they need to know has been documented and standardized.

Meet with your leadership team and decide how best to proceed. As soon as you learn of a key team member’s upcoming departure, gather your managers together and agree on how you will proceed. Is there a good candidate already on your team whom you can promote into the soon-to-be vacant position? Or do you need to start your search outside the company? Do you need to rethink the position entirely? What jobs will be immediately impacted, and who will cover them in the short term? Identify next steps, assign them, and establish deadlines.

Communicate. Start with your team; let them know who is leaving and when, and what the plan is going forward. If you fired an employee, you can let your team know why, but try to avoid bad-mouthing the person. You want to head off the rumors that spread when people are kept in the dark, while at the same time keeping morale up and getting your team focused on the future.

If the person leaving interacted regularly with clients and/or vendors, let them know of their departure too. At Grunder Landscaping, we have an e-mail template we use that informs our clients and vendors when an employee leaves our company, assures them they will see no change in service or quality, and encourages them to call us if they have any questions or concerns.

Support your team. Even with the best of plans, transitions can be challenging, and some team members may see their workloads increase in the short term. Whether you’re an owner, a leader, or a peer to them, step up and lend a hand wherever you can. Offer to take on some of their work so they can focus on more pressing issues, buy them lunch, or just show up with their favorite snack. Let them know they’re appreciated, and that you’re there to help.

It’s not easy to lose a key employee, but with the right kind of planning, it can be an opportunity for you to grow as a team and a company.

Have a great week!

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Marty Grunder
President & CEO, The Grow Group and Grunder Landscaping Co.