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12 ideas for managing a key leader’s departure

An important person is leaving. How does your company adapt? Here are 12 ideas from Young Entrepreneur Council members.

5 min read



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The Young Entrepreneur Council is an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs. YEC has also launched BusinessCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses. Read previous SmartBrief posts by YEC.

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Q: A key leader on your team is leaving. How do you ensure the transition is successful for the leader and the rest of your staff?

1. Schedule and plan for their departure

Losing any valuable asset to a company or organization can be tough. Address the situation as soon as possible and also have a schedule and plan in place before their departure. This will allow for team members to understand their new roles and how to adapt without such an individual in place. Also try and appreciate the departure, versus leaving on a sour note. — Zac Johnson,

2. Delegate smoothly

The best way to ensure a smooth transition is to allow yourself plenty of time to properly delegate the duties of the leaving team member to others in the company. Whether you plan on replacing the team member with a new hire, promoting another member, or dissolving their position, take the time to assign the work in a way that will be most effective. — Bryce Welker, CPA Exam Guy

3. Let the team decide who’s next

It’s always very difficult to lose a good leader. Sometimes their skills aren’t even definable; it’s just the aura of that person’s existence that makes them good at leading people. Immediately default to No. 2. On every team there is a No. 2 player that’s just the go-to. That’s typically the best replacement. They’re already trained, and in most cases, respected for their position. — Ali Mahvan, Sharebert

4. Schedule a shadow day

No matter how thorough your offboarding or documentation processes are, you need to have someone observe the departing team member in action. Take notes about the sorts of questions people ask in person, the tweaks that keep systems running, and the busy work the team member may not think to note. Even if a replacement hasn’t yet been found, shadow days catch a lot of details. — Thursday Bram, The Responsible Communication Style Guide

5. Be a helper

Be as helpful as possible. You may be concerned about the next step, but remember, there are many other qualified job seekers. What’s more, if a leader leaves your team on a good note, they’ll be more likely to stay connected and send quality candidates your way. Ask how you can help with the transition, either by bridging gaps that may arise, or by providing more direction in their absence. — Shawn Rubel, Vecteezy

6. Be gracious

Ease the transition by being nothing but gracious to them and thank them for all their hard work. This will ensure their leaving is contained to just them. The last thing you want is a key leader taking some of your best employee with them also. And promote someone from within to fill their shoes because your team will be spooked by an outsider who doesn’t know the culture coming in. — Luke Liu, Albert

7. Document everything

The leader needs to make sure all of the processes and procedures from their department are properly documented so the next leader can pick up where they left off. A new leader should not start from scratch. It’s OK for them to implement their own changes afterward, but they need to have a clear idea of where they are starting from in their new role. — Andy Karuza, FenSens

8. Reassign tasks

Whether it’s for new employees or for current employees, it’s important to appropriately and effectively assign the tasks that the teammate was responsible for. You always want to make sure that the leaving teammate’s tasks can be successfully managed well and that your current employee workloads aren’t too much. Always think about it for the long run. — Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS

9. Get them involved in the hire

Have them write up their daily activities and create a job description, then have them create a flowchart on their process and procedures. Get them involved in the hiring process, but most importantly the training process. Even if they’re no longer there by the time your new hire comes on board, their process chart will help guide the new person into a smoother transition. — Anthony Davani, The Davani Group Inc.

10. Take care of legal obligations

When a key individual in the organization chooses to leave, while their absence will no doubt create a leadership vacuum, albeit temporarily, taking care of the necessary obligations, i.e equity, bonuses, severance, taxes etc., is the first step to ensuring a smooth transition. Other employees will see that it’s possible to move on from your organization amicably. — Cody McLain, SupportNinja

11. Have a party

The natural reaction when a leader is leaving is to freak out about the future. Do the opposite. Have a party to celebrate the leader and, more importantly, to get excited about the great future ahead. The party will change the narrative from “worry and uncertainty” to “excitement and resolve.” — Brandon Bruce, Cirrus Insight

12. Establish a clear structure

A team thrives when it has structure. A successful team, therefore, has the structure and the strength to adapt when a leader leaves. Do not mistake structure for stagnancy, however, because any such structure or framework must never be too rigid or restrictive. It must be flexible enough to accommodate change, so leaders can enter and exit with ease; so success defines every journey. — Alexander Westgarth, Westgarth Wines