A Top Employee Quit: 5 Lessons Learned

Spend time recruiting the right people. Then spend just as much time making sure you keep them.

When an employee leaves Beryl Health--voluntarily or involuntarily--I generally believe it's the right thing for both parties.

But when we recently lost one of our top project managers--a stand-out employee, and someone I thought would stay much longer--it got me thinking about what we could have been doing better to keep him.

Where did we go wrong? How could we have been more prepared?

Here are the five biggest lessons I learned this time:

Read the warning signs.

Most of the time, leaders are aware that an employee has something else in the works. A staffer might express feelings of unrest by asking for more responsibility or training. She might start to disengage, or exhibit a different work behavior. Pay attention, and take these early warning signs seriously.

Train all managers to avoid surprises.

When Beryl was smaller, if any employee was "at risk," I knew about it, and I was usually adept at saving the best ones with a heart-to-heart conversation. But that isn't possible as Beryl has gotten bigger and more levels have been added to the organization. Make sure all your leaders know the early warning signs.

Build close relationships with your people.

I always try to be frank with my direct reports. "If you are ever thinking about leaving, just tell me," I say. I also openly tell an employee if his job is at risk. As long as we trust each other, we'll have an honest dialogue, and make decisions that are in all of our best interests.

Nurture employees' personal visions.

At Beryl, my team and I spend a lot of time teaching employees about the mission, vision, and values of our company. But how much time do we dedicate to understanding their personal visions? We ought to work hard to make sure employees also make progress toward their individual goals.

Have a back-up plan.

Make sure you're ready for a time when an employee is no longer available for the duties currently charged to her. A comprehensive plan may not be necessary, but you'd better have at least a guide until you can fill the role.

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