What to Do When an Employee Leaves Use these steps to achieve a smooth transition during employee turnover.

By Dr. David G. Javitch

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For the entrepreneur, employee turnover always raises challenges, questions and issues. Employees, of course, leave for many reasons. They're promoted, take a new or "better" position, retire--and, yes, sometimes they're terminated.

Whatever the cause--even if an employee is asked to leave before the end of the day--it's crucial for you and the direct supervisor to gain as much accurate information as possible about the current status of that employee's plans, activities, communications, upcoming events and obligations.

That way, the transition to and startup for the replacement employee or employees avoid many of the obstacles often associated with turnover.

1. You'll need to know the answers to at least these three questions:

  • What are the typical tasks and obligations the current employee fulfilled?
  • What are the interactions and outcomes of working with internal and external clients?
  • What are the responsibilities on a daily, weekly, monthly, semi-annual or annual basis?

Typical examples are periodic updates, reports, performance appraisals, meetings and phone calls.

2. Understand the tasks that the employee performed. Certainly, many of these will be stated in the job description. Often, however, these documents often are not kept up-to-date and may not be informative or helpful. You'll need to know how the employee performs tasks, with whom, with what degree of exactness and with what standard of quality. Additionally, you ought to know who needs to be copied on memos, e-mails, summaries or "FYIs" regarding those tasks.

3. Identify the key people the employee interacts with. Who are the people who can be trusted or counted on? Who are the "go to" individuals or groups, at what level and for what topics, purposes or activities? Whom does the employee go to for permission, input, insight, details, guidance, action or even a strong shoulder to lean on? What are the teams, task forces, committees and other organizations that the departing employee belongs to, leads or needs feedback from? Who relies on the departing employee for advice, input, approval or direction?

4. Know how the employee evaluates peers, subordinates and superiors. This will help the replacement employee identify whom to go to for what purposes; whom to trust with what kinds of issues, tasks, and responsibilities; whom to rely on to work on their own without providing structure; whom to provide brief or minimal amounts of structure, follow-up and guidance; whom to offer more structure, follow-up and guidance; and finally, whom to provide considerable amounts of structure, follow-up and guidance.

Clearly and understandably, there will be holes in what gets accomplished after the current employee leaves. Ideally, the outgoing employee will have provided sufficient lead time for you and others to deal with the issues that need to be addressed until a replacement is hired.

Under the best circumstances, the current employee will remain long enough for the new person to be hired and trained, allowing for a smoother transition. Nonetheless, some degree of uncertainty, lack of effectiveness, efficiency and productivity is unavoidable. The idea, of course, is to minimize these negative effects.

Answering the questions and challenges created when an employee leaves your organization will help you tie up loose ends, resolve outstanding issues and prevent gaps in your organization's ongoing productivity. However, these answers should not be used as a "written in cement" recipe for the replacement employee's job performance and success. Instead, this information should serve as a roadmap for effectiveness that allows the replacement employee to apply skills, knowledge and experiences to current and future actions.

Change brings with it the potential for new opportunities and innovation. You want your new employee to be successful, but you really don't want or expect a clone of the departing individual. This is especially true when it comes to the issue of trust. Each person brings individual abilities, insights and approaches to issues and people. Simply because the departing employee trusted a peer, subordinate or superior doesn't imply or guarantee that the new employee will either trust or distrust a specific individual. Expecting the same behavior can spell defeat of the employee and dissatisfaction for you.

The more positively you and others view this change process, and the more you address the challenges inherent in the turnover, the more satisfied and productive the transition will be.

Dr. David G. Javitch is an organizational psychologist, leadership specialist, and President of Javitch Associates in Newton, Mass. Author of How to Achieve Power in Your Life, Javitch is in demand as a consultant for his skills in assessment, coaching, training and facilitating groups and retreats.

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