What to Do When a Star Employee Leaves

Even when provided with ample notice, the departure of a core team member can leave you feeling frantic as you seek to answer the many questions swirling in your mind: Who will cover this employee's work? Will this derail any high-profile projects? Which clients will be affected most?

But wait! You might not have to worry so much. Consider these questions instead.

Do we need to look for a candidate outside the company?

Before you even think about launching a candidate search, evaluate your existing resources. The best person for the job could already be on your payroll. Is there a staff member who could assume the position with little or no training? Promoting from within whenever possible is always a good practice because it can aid in employee retention. It also helps you to avoid a costly and time-consuming hiring process – finding skilled creative professionals can be a challenge in today's hiring market.

Do we even need to fill the position?

Sometimes, "star players" who can shoulder demanding workloads end up taking on more duties than the typical employee. If your departing employee seemed to have been doing the work of two people, determine whether some or all of the key responsibilities could be judiciously assigned out to other strong performers on the team. Do you know of employees who would welcome the opportunity to increase their duties and stretch their abilities? Just be careful not to "dump" work on your staff, or give projects to personnel who don't have the necessary skills and experience to handle them. Delegate strategically and consider how new responsibilities might enhance an employee's career path in the firm.

Could a freelancer tide us over?

If you decide to fill the position with an external candidate, consider whether a short-term staffing solution could help ensure work stays on track while you search for a qualified full-time replacement. It could give you the extra time you need to avoid making a costly bad hire.

Learn to let go – and plan ahead

Yes, losing a valued employee can be inconvenient. But avoid the temptation to try to prevent that worker from leaving – for example, by extending a counteroffer. There are many reasons why a counteroffer is not a wise decision; for one, people don't typically quit jobs they love.

The reality is that even the most productive and skilled workers are replaceable, and it's the rare employee who plans to stay with your firm forever. One strategy that can help you ease the disruption when the inevitable happens is to formalize succession planning. It can take months, even years, to develop talent for key positions. If no one is at the ready to assume critical roles or responsibilities in your firm when staff members leave, act now to identify and begin developing potential candidates.

This post was adapted from "What to Do When a Star Employee Leaves," which originally appeared on work life.

Related post: Your Guide to Building the Best Creative Team