Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when a key employee leaves is that successful entrepreneurs quickly move on from the initial negative emotions, and frame the challenge as an opportunity.
Hopefully, when that key team member gave notice, your first reaction was to congratulate him or her. And hopefully you kept in mind that chances are, the departure is not about you. It's about the person who's leaving, and the great opportunity they've been given. Maybe your training and nurturing were what helped. So move in fast with the following recommendations from entrepreneurs who've been there...
Wish her well
Tell her that you're sorry to lose her, but be supportive.
Any chance you can keep her?
Immediately after wishing her well, find out why she's leaving and what you could possibly do to keep her.
Don't assume you have to replace her immediately
Take a beat to figure out if the person has actually changed the position, and if so, how? Maybe you need to hire a person with a different skill set to replace him. Or, maybe three other employees can take over aspects of his job.
Get input from other stakeholders
Make phone calls, send emails and talk face-to-face to try to come up with a plan. Listen to everyone and be flexible.
Don't give the rumor mill a chance to get started
Allow the person leaving to make her own announcement, then move in and make sure your honesty comes through. Be clear with your employees that, although the departure is unwanted, change is unavoidable, and you have a plan in place.
Conduct an exit interview
Ask the employee for honesty. Ask her to tell you the things she dared not tell you under your employ. You could learn some valuable information, and build a strong bridge. If all goes right, your departing employee might want to not only keep in touch, but also might offer you referrals from her new job, or even come back!
Sometimes you really can take lemons and make lemonade. When it's time to move on and find a replacement, our NYS Employee Onboarding Kit is an excellent resource to help you hire and onboard your next key employee.
If you're hiring an employee, or think you might be soon, check out our comprehensive resource page, Employee Onboarding - A Complete Guide. This is a handy, tightly-packaged outline that presents all the critical hiring and onboarding elements in simple, chronological order.