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When a staff member leaves

9 September: When a key member of staff moves on it can leave you with a void to be filled but it is also the opportunity to re-engineer your business. Practice owner and business author Della Hudson has six tips to help managers meet this challenge.

After a tough week at the coalface, one of your most trusted employees books in a quick Zoom call. She tells you she’s loved working at the business but has found another job and is leaving. Once you get over the surprise, how should you respond? 

While the prospect of recruiting in such uncertain times may not seem immediately inviting, it can present an opportunity to look at roles, processes and personnel within the business in a new light. The following six tips aren’t intended to act as a strict checklist but could prove helpful for managers looking to use such a transition to make positive changes to their business.

Conduct a full exit interview

Take the time for a comprehensive, honest exit interview. This is an excellent opportunity to find out what could be better within the business and perhaps with your own management. If your team member is leaving on good terms then this can be a constructive exercise but, even if they’re not, you may be able to pick up some useful pointers from amongst the recriminations.

Take a fresh look at the business

Try to look at your business or department objectively and unhampered by its history. How would you structure things if you had a blank sheet and could recruit anybody you liked? Draw up the ideal organisation chart for the next step.

Explore automation or outsourcing

It may be that part of your ideal team means that you can automate or outsource part of the work. Automation doesn’t require holidays or sick leave and can work all day long without taking a tea break. Outsourcing may allow you to buy in expertise or to only pay for the hours that are worked.

Redraft the job description

Once you have your new organisation chart, you can write a new job description for the role. It may look like the same role undertaken by the outgoing employee or it may look very different. As well as the tasks, consider the essential and desirable characteristics. The first are areas that you will NOT compromise on and will rule out many candidates. The latter are things that you are prepared to trade off against each other to get the best person overall.

Consider your existing team

Promoting internally can be a big motivator. It means you won’t lose another team member as they outgrow their current role in your business. It is also cheaper than recruiting externally and you already know the individual and their strengths and weaknesses. Another benefit is that you have an instant replacement to maximise any handover period.

Tackle the recruitment creatively

As I touched on in this article back in June, during the pandemic some traditional methods of recruitment remain unavailable. Some parts are well-suited to online but other bits may require a little more thought, such as how an individual works in a team. It’s worth thinking about these sections of the role, and how you might test them if lockdown restrictions return.

If you still need to recruit externally then you can use your job description as the basis for your advert or your briefing to recruiters. It is always worth putting the full job description on your website to keep your advert shorter and to clarify anything that may have been misinterpreted by an intermediary agency.

Once the handover has been completed then it is up to you to ensure a smooth exit, bearing in mind that your leaver may still be a good advocate for your business.

Read commentary on the issue of loan capital as part of acquisition finance in Beswick and Wine: Buying and Selling Private Companies and Businesses.