Everyone is watching how you respond when a high-performer quits.
When a high-performer quits, it can feel like your world is imploding as you scramble to keep the work going AND find the right unicorn to fill that spot.
Of course, there’s never a good time for a high-performer to quit. But, what you do next matters. For you. For them. And for everyone paying attention to your response (see also: How to Build a Great Culture in a High-Turnover World.)
For this conversation, we’re going to assume you’ve worked to re-recruit your high-performing quitter by understanding what’s really happening and doing what you can to respond.
If their mind is made up, here are some thoughts on what to do next and a video of why it matters.
Start Here When Your High-Performer Quits
Sadly, we’ve been fielding a lot of calls and #askingforafriend questions from high-performers who’ve quit and dealt with a terrible response from their manager.
- “I gave my notice and now everyone around here is just so mad at me. It’s like the last ten years didn’t count for anything. It’s going to be a torturous two weeks.”
- “I feel like I’ve wasted my time here. Now I see they didn’t really care about me at all.”
- “I’ve sacrificed so much for this company, I would hope at this point, they would want what’s best for me.”
Those sentiments are contagious. “Gosh, if they treated her that way, they probably don’t care about me either.”
And, your sad high-performing quitter is likely venting to more than their co-workers. They’re sharing on social media, talking about their frustrations to cousin Joe at Thanksgiving, and to anyone who will listen over a pumpkin latte and snickerdoodle.
So here are a few tips to keep in mind when a high-performer quits.
1. Get a grip on your emotions.
Of course, you have a right to your own feelings, and it’s natural to be upset.
And, what you blurt out in anger or distress will be hard to take back once you’ve calmed down.
Keep in mind that unless you’ve been acting like a real jerk with toxic, courage-crushing behaviors, it’s unlikely that your high-performer quit to tick you off or sabotage your results.
It’s helpful to remember how much you care about them as a person and that you want them to be successful in life, not just on your team.
2. Thank them for their contributions.
One of the biggest complaints we hear from high-performers is that they wish their boss would simply say “thank you” more (see also 7 things your high-performers want to hear you say). You want to leave your high-performer with a good feeling about working with you and your organization. Showing them you understand how they contributed and made a difference can go a long way in this.
There may be an opportunity to work with them again someday. When you do this publically, you also send a clear message to everyone else, that your gratitude is real and lasting. No one wants to work for a fair-weathered thanker.
3. Ask for their ideas.
Of course, it’s important to show up curious about why they chose to move on. Even if HR does a formal exit interview, you can also have a personal conversation as well. This is a great time to ask for feedback about your leadership and their experiences working at your company.
It’s also a good time to ask about their ideas for improvement. Once someone is leaving their FOSU (fear of speaking up) is dramatically reduced, and they may have the courage to share ideas they may have withheld in the past.
4. Encourage them to stay connected.
High-performers often know other high-performers. If you’re not connected on LinkedIn, now’s a great time. You never know when that former high-performer is exactly who you need to talk to, or to network with for an open position.
5. Give them a chance to say goodbye.
We’ve heard too many people venting recently that “after all these years they could have a least bought me a cake.” Or, “my last day was so sad, I just packed up my stuff and left. No one even really said goodbye.”
It could be that some managers are backing away from this common courtesy of creating a GOOD bye because they are afraid it will encourage others to leave. We can assure you, no one leaves a company because they want a party. There are easier reasons to celebrate.
How you treat employees at every point of their employment cycle matters. If you want a great culture, ensure people feel valued from onboarding through their last day on payroll.
What are your best practices for responding when a high-performer quits?