The 5 essential things to do when a key member of your team leaves

Life is never quite the same when a key member of your team leaves. Whilst on a personal level you may know it is the right thing for them to do, on a professional level you may feel like you have just been stabbed in the back. Whatever your personal or professional feelings on the matter are you have a duty to your team and firm to ensure a smooth transition when they exit. In this article we explore the 5 essential things you need to do when a key employee leaves your team.

1. Review the situation
As your employee works out their notice you may find that their previous high levels of performance dip drastically and they may become very outspoken about the problems in your firm. It’s therefore essential that you notice the employee’s attitude when they hand in their resignation. Do they still give all the signs of wanting to do a good job and not leave a mess when they leave, or do they not seem to care in the slightest about what will happen to their clients and workload when they leave?

How they behave when handing in their resignation and how they plan to tidy up their workload for their successor will give you a good steer about what to do next. For example, will you make them work out their notice? After all if you are going to be paying them to sit around and cause discontent, then you may as well let them go early.

As well as looking at how they behave when they give you their resignation it is worth considering exactly where they are going. Will their new role give them a large conflict of interest with their current role? Will key clients want to follow them to their new firm? Whilst you may have a restrictive covenant and no solicitation clause in their contract, this holds little weight if a client wants to go with them. Your first task after accepting their resignation is to identify all the risks your firm faces and put in place steps to minimise the risk. Whilst gardening leave may feel expensive, it gives you a chance to defend against key clients following your ex-employee to a new firm. The cost of gardening leave may be peanuts compared to the cost of clients walking out the door with them.

As the saying goes you only know what you’ve lost when you’ve lost something. What key skills or information is walking out the door when your employee leaves? If these are business critical, such as they are the only person who knows how to produce a key report on one of your systems, then you need to know this and plan accordingly.

2. Have a transition plan and several contingency plans
When you have agreed that you will accept the employee’s resignation you now have a duty to ensure a smooth transition for all concerned. This means sitting down with your employee to fully understand her current workload, responsibilities and client list, and what they will complete before they leave. Aim to create a transition plan which has a sufficient level of detail for the both of you to be crystal clear about what exactly will get done before their departure.

Your contingency plans needs to identify how you will fill the gap left by the member of staff leaving. It is worth modeling several scenarios so that you are prepared for all eventualities. For example what happens if it takes 6+ months to get their replacement to start? Or, considering the current lack of available talent on the marketplace, what happens if you can’t recruit a replacement in the short or medium term?

3. Review your staffing requirements for the next 12-24 months
Your first reaction may be that you need to quickly find a replacement. However, it is worth taking a step back and holistically looking at what your firm really needs going forward. By reshuffling some of their responsibilities to others and considering alternative ways of servicing the work, you may not need to hire a replacement. It is worth looking at your long-term strategy and plans before assuming you need to replace them. Could you bring in someone cheaper and more junior to do their work? Many of our clients have come to us when a key member of the team has resigned and replaced them by outsourcing work to us. Their leaving may give you the opportunity to change how you do things such as ditching an unprofitable service or exiting unprofitable clients.

4. Decide on what non-essential tasks or projects can be paused or stopped until you are back up to full strength
After reviewing your situation and reevaluating your firm’s structure you may still have an employee-shaped hole in your capacity going forward. In this instance work with your team to decide on what really needs to get done over the next 3-6 months whilst you work on finding their replacement.

5. Give them a dignified exit and help them leave on good terms
Accountancy is a small world and everyone knows everyone else. If you can give your employee a dignified exit and help them leave on good terms, this can pay dividends in the future. You never know where they end up in the future. We know of scenarios where ex-employees have become the best source of referrals for their previous employers.

In summary:
A team member leaving gives you an opportunity to make changes to how your firm will run going forward. Careful planning and consideration of the risks involved with the team member leaving are required to ensure your firm is able to safely carry on after they leave.

If you have an employee-shaped hole in your capacity, give us a call to see how our team can help you make the transition. Many of our clients, once they have started to outsource their accounts prep and bookkeeping work, find they never need to go through the trauma of finding and training a new fee earner again.

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Posted in For Accountancy Practices, For Small Practices.