Your Top Performer is Leaving. Now What?

As I continue to zigzag the United States visiting our offices, I see strong churn in the tech job market.

IT professionals are more frequently considering new opportunities as hiring picks up and compensation continues to increase for many roles. When a top performer starts to take recruiting calls, they are frequently on a path of no return. Companies continue to raise the stakes in compensation and benefits, making retention -- even for a reasonably satisfied employee -- an increasingly tough proposition. As a leader, there are certainly proactive steps you can take now to re-recruit your existing staff. Making one-on-one time for each employee is a great start. It’s important to understand each staff member’s overall level of job satisfaction and current career goals. Frequently, an initial conversation helps you identify where you may be vulnerable from a retention perspective. If an employee is concerned with compensation, work/life balance or opportunities for advancement or training, this meeting helps you proactively resolve those concerns before he or she takes those recruiting calls from competitors. However, if a top performer has concerns you cannot address, you should begin organizing a contingency plan. In fact, it’s wise to have a contingency plan in place at all times: Even with regular, open communication with employees, you never know when you’ll lose someone.  It can take weeks – even months – to find a replacement, so be prepared. Action items might include:

  • Cross-training others on the team. Cross-training will ensure you have knowledge retention and staff in place to potentially pick up job responsibilities if necessary.
  • Identifying internal replacements. Begin the process of grooming and mentoring a potential replacement to take on more responsibility. Vacation time is a good time to have them step in and see how they do.
  • Networking. You might need to tap into your external network to start identifying potential replacements, so keep in touch with contacts.

If your star employee does decide to leave, it can be really painful, particularly when you lose individuals with high-demand skill sets such as web developers or network engineers, to name a few. Here are some tips to help position your firm for a strong rebound if a top performer does leave:

  • Ask your departing employee for the maximum transition period. Instead of the traditional two-week notice, would  he or she be willing to give you three weeks? This gives you the opportunity to maximize knowledge transfer during the transition period.
  • Consider bringing in consultants as subject matter experts. They can fill the void while training your full-time staff to take over new responsibilities.
  • Make hiring a priority. Move quickly when you find a qualified candidate by shortening the interview cycle, as well as making the offer right away. Additionally, be flexible in your requirements and willing to move fast to hire a good candidate who doesn’t necessarily have all the “nice to haves” listed on your job description, but can do the job.

I hope these tips will be helpful in your retention and recruitment efforts. As always, I welcome your feedback or suggestions on what works for you. Thank you.