Key component Featured

8:00pm EDT June 28, 2001
We all lose top employees. The reasons are varied -- they may want to change careers, a spouse's job transfer may take them out of town or they may decide to be a stay-at-home parent.

The person leaving is doing so for his or her own best interests. However, it's often difficult for a company's leaders to look at the departure as a positive, even though they do their best to disguise their disappointment. It's not that we don't want to be happy for that person; the difficulty is that we are the ones left behind to fill the gap and make up the difference.

The difficulty is greater when the business is based more upon a person than a product. Relationships with customers the employee has nourished over the years have to be re-established with someone new. Having an understanding of your customers' businesses and knowing them on a personal level is a major competitive advantage -- an advantage that walks out the door when that key employee leaves.

If we look at the person we are losing, we only see the potential negative impact to our business. However, if we look at that person and all he or she has done to help the company get where it is today, we'll be grateful we had them with us as long as we did.

Here are several steps to ensure that our perspective and attitude are in the right place when we lose a top employees.

1. Be prepared. Don't let a major portion of your business walk out the door with the employee. Make sure the knowledge of all key employees is shared or documented. Where possible, cross train employees and have more than one person work on important accounts. That way, if one leaves, the other can continue the business relationship without starting from scratch.

2. Examine your business model. Top people can do dynamic things, but major portions of your business shouldn't rely on one person. Evaluate all of the responsibilities this person has and see if he or she is replaceable. If someone else could not come in and easily take over the job, you might want to consider changing your business model.

3. Be professional to the end. An important employee should be treated like one until he or she leaves. Sometimes when we know someone is leaving, we stop paying attention to that person as we scramble to deal with the departure and fill the opening. Other employees are watching, and you are setting a tone for them. This person has played an important role in your business to this point and should be treated professionally. Situations change, and he or she may want to return some day.

4. Promote from within. This gives other people a chance to move up. Studies show that a major reason for leaving a company is a lack of advancement opportunities. You may be losing one employee, but retaining a future star.

Losing a key employee is never easy, but it doesn't have to be traumatic. If you are prepared, have a proper business model and don't rely too much on one person, a departure can turn out to be a positive experience for both you and the employee. Fred Koury is president and CEO of SBN Magazine.