Dealing With the Loss: When a Manager Leaves

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Dealing With the Loss: When a Manager Leaves

Your team is chugging along like a well-oiled machine. Each employee knows what to do and how to do it. Your managerial hierarchy is solidly in place. Everyone seems content at their job and are, together, striving toward achieving the shared company mission. Then one day, unexpectedly, someone in upper management leaves. Whether due to resignation or firing, the end result is the same: an influential piece of your business’ operational identity is gone.

How does a business owner manage this awkward situation, minimizing disruption and negative fallout? Here are some tips for weathering such a managerial shakeup:

Assess what happened. What were the circumstances surrounding the manager leaving? Was there a communication problem, an integrity issue or a personality clash? Was there a lack of opportunity for upward mobility within the company? Did she perform her duties well and was she compensated accordingly? Address such issues as they are uncovered and learn from them, adjusting policies and actions accordingly.

Frame the situation in as positive light as possible. Take advantage of the “exit incident” as an opportunity to reassess such things as management style and structure. No matter the reason for leaving, chances are high that there are lessons to be learned that will inform the treatment and expectations of future holders of similar positions. Recognize this as a chance to hone your internal employee retention practices.

It’s also important to demonstrate especially strong leadership to the rest of your workforce at this time. Employees will look to you for clues about how the company feels about this incident. Assure employees that, while the loss is significant, goals and company culture will remain wholly the same and that, in the end, the business will survive this hiccup. This is an opportune time to highlight the company’s strengths and show appreciation for its dedicated and loyal team.

Avoid adopting a “sour grapes” attitude. Regardless of the circumstances of the manager’s exit from your company, take the highest road possible when referring to her. You may feel a sting of loss, chances are, she had good relationships - and possibly close friendships - with individual coworkers. Hearing you speak ill of her in her absence will alienate those who still may hold her in high regard (and make you look petty). Try to find positive things to say about her past influence on the company and on her good qualities - certainly there was some merit to once having had her on your team.

Choose your former manager’s replacement carefully. For whatever reason, the person who last filled this position didn’t work out. Bear that in mind when beginning the search to fill her position. Which of her traits or proclivities proved to make her a poor fit? Or perhaps there’s something about the position that makes it undesirable or difficult in which to succeed. Perhaps a reassessment of the position, its duties and responsibilities is in order to better serve its designated purpose.

Once you’re certain the position is precisely what it should be - nothing more and nothing less - focus on what is needed to fulfill the requirements of the position. You may find you’re looking for a candidate with a considerably different skill set or comportment than your previous manager. Also, consider promoting from within your organization - you may have an ideal manager-in-the-rough right under your nose. When you hire internally, you have the advantage of already being familiar of the employees’ work ethic, knowledge, skills and character.

Encourage a welcoming attitude for the replacement employee. Filling a vacant position on your management team is rarely easy because, for better or worse, she’s not the previous employee. Focus on the positives she brings to the position instead of lamenting what you’ve lost. Harkening back to how things were will only make moving on more difficult. Be open to the possibility that the differences she brings to the position can be for the better. Expect there to be a natural learning curve while you all become accustomed to one another. Be patient, accommodating and understanding while the new manager finds her feet. Again, the way you treat the new hire will signal the rest of your team that you welcome her, respect her and wish her success in her new position.

Losing a member of upper management - no matter the reason - can significantly shake up your business for a while. When the boss copes with the situation with a steady hand and measured, purposeful actions, however, negative consequences can be mitigated. In fact, there may even be an unexpected opportunity for growth.

How have you dealt with the loss of an upper manager at your business?

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