What Will You Do When A Key Team Member Walks Out On You?

There are three separate circumstances that play a significant role in handling the leave of a key player.

Failing to predict, plan, and manage each one of them would result in a certain amount of stress or overload for the team. It’s extremely challenging for smaller teams and organizations in particular – since they can’t afford to manage a team of hundreds of people in charge of the same type of activity.

In general, employees, clients – and even partners – usually have an “expiration date”. Sooner or later, most will leave. Accepting the inevitable will make it easier to focus on your strengths and opportunities instead.

1. Creating a Leadership Team

This is the initial step before identifying the key player(s) on the team.

Top players are hardly hired as such. Most have started small and worked hard, continuously, until they grew to a certain point. The senior management or a founder has increased the scope of their work and responsibilities and made them valuable in the first place.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. But this is also the entry point of delegating as much as possible to someone else.

Experienced entrepreneurs and business owners design processes that are human proof. Each organization works with people but counting on a single point of failure may be a horrible decision.

Shaping the key players is comprised of identifying their traits and motivation, allocating the right type of work and securing the outcome in the long run.

2. Working With Your Key Player

This phase concludes the last months (or 1–2 years) of the key player working within the organization.

It’s just as strategic as it may influence the final decision of the employee. We talk a lot about the lifetime value of a customer but often neglect the turnover rate of our team members.

It’s also a convoluted process that depends on trust, leadership skills, managerial experience, aligning the company goals and opportunities with one’s desires. Regardless, carefully planning and executing this phase may lead to a success story (player sticking around until an exit or for a decade) or at least expand the duration of the contract to another couple of years.

3. Handling the Leave

If it comes to a leave, it’s important to handle that part as best as you can.

You are losing a key player. That’s it.

But here’s what would make the process more manageable:

  • Make sure that you haven’t assigned too many responsibilities to your employee.
  • Also, try to distribute responsibilities to at least 2 people on your team, 3 or more is preferable.
  • Have everything well-documented in order to take over or reassign to someone else.
  • Ensure that your contract is solid (you’re safe against data leaks, security breaches, clients going straight to your former employee).
  • Try to extend the duration of the leave as much as possible if it makes sense. Sometimes, it can be arranged legally (a 3-month upfront notice or more, options plan that would keep them around).
  • Include some training/onboarding time during the transition phase to another team member.
  • Make sure you part ways on a good note. A professional relationship works both ways.

In a nutshell, you want to be less dependent on individuals, allocate assignments to more people working alongside, have everything documented, keep the good tone and try to extend the relationship. If you receive a resignation later, having everything else sorted upfront should let you transition with no significant pressure for the firm.