What do I do when I find out a key employee is looking for another job?

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
A lot depends on your situation and industry.  Is "client stealing" an issue?  If it is, you need to immediately find measures to protect yourself and your data.

In our current employment climate it is close to impossible to prevent an employee from looking elsewhere.  Today, most professionals view their careers, not their company, as their first priority.   This is likely the result of the perception that the corporation's commitment is to the shareholders and not the employees.  But, whatever the reason, the days of the "company man" are just about gone.

You may want to call the employee in for an open and honest discussion.  While you may not be able to turn things around, you may be able to learn where you missed the mark so that you can both part on good terms with this employee and avoid this issue in the future.  Here is my 6-step plan for holding a difficult conversation.  
  1. Prepare. Make some notes about the situation and your feelings. Write about where you are, where you want to be, and how you might get there.

  2. Set the stage. Sit down at a time when you are both clear headed and able to give this important conversation the time and energy it deserves.

  3. Speak from the heart. Do not point fingers of blame. Instead focus on finding a solution that works for both of you.

  4. Listen, listen, listen. Listen as if you are an outside observer with no prior knowledge of the situation. Twenty years in the mediation business has taught me that there are at least two sides to every story. You may be very surprised when you hear the rest of the story.

  5. Define the emotions. Your situation is ripe for feelings of dismissed, discounted, disenfranchised, or disrespected. Sometimes, just defining that emotion and realizing that both of you feel the same way is enough.  However, when there has been a breach of trust, it is usually impossible to get things back to the way they were.  Those are the times when the best you can hope for is closure on a somewhat positive note. 

  6. Give yourselves time to think, process the information, and cool down. Then come together again and figure out what to do. 
It is inevitable that employees will leave, but you don't want to be caught off guard.  Take a look at my website http://www.transformations.ws/themediationproject/learnmore/5.html  for a list of tips for getting and keeping employee loyalty.

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