What To Do When a Key Employee Leaves

Losing a key employee to another company or opportunity can be difficult for any size organization but can be especially impactful for organizations experiencing rapid growth. In this article, we discuss the path toward recovery during key employee departures and explore strategies to ensure you keep talented members working with your organization.

What are key employees?

Key employees are those who contribute heavily to the production of revenue or perform an instrumental operational role. These essential roles may include a VP of sales, a senior software engineer, a marketing manager, or a human resources director. When these employees decide to retire or move to another organization, many key processes within your organization may come to a sudden halt. Recovering from these situations requires paying special attention to your team’s demands and the functions that key employees provided before their departure. Once business leaders can determine the qualities, skills, and qualifications key employees hold, they can begin the process of finding another talented professional with a comparable background and expertise.

Why are key employees so essential to team and business success?

Those who embody the true qualities of a key employee often perform duties far beyond their job description. They place the other members of their organization on their shoulders and lift them to new heights. These employees may manage major accounts, hold existing relationships with key customers, develop crucial aspects of the backend infrastructure, or be empathetic and informative mentors for new hires. Regardless of the role they held in the organization, everyone can feel the impact of their departure.

Another way to think about key employees and their importance is through a concept known as Price’s Law. According to Price’s Law, around 50% of productive work is completed by the square root of the total number of people who participate in the work. Though this is not a definitive truth about all teams, it means that in a team of 25 salespeople, five team members are likely to be responsible for around 50% of the sales revenue. This means that if just one of your highest-performing salespeople decides to move to another company, your team that produced $10 million in revenue last year, could suddenly be on track to only make $9 million. In short, keeping these key employees is paramount to the future success of the sales team. This doesn’t mean that all employees are not valuable. In fact, key employees often help the rest of their team reach their true potential, allowing them to be even more productive and valuable to their employer. When a valuable team member leaves, replacing them with another equally capable person is, eventually, almost always necessary.

How to recover when a key employee leaves the organization

Here is a step-by-step guide you can follow to recover from the departure of a key employee:

  1. Assess the true impact of the employee’s departure
  2. Manage potential setbacks during the interim period
  3. Define new position responsibilities and gather requirements
  4. Try to find the best candidates for the role
  5. Determine if they are a good fit for your organization


1. Assess the true impact of the employee’s departure

If a member of your team has decided to move on to another organization or retire, it’s essential to do some work to understand how that team member contributed to the success of their department and the organization as a whole. For example, your VP of Digital Marketing may be primarily responsible for leading all digital marketing campaigns but may also contribute to closing sales and producing content for your website. They may also be a thought leader that can critically analyze obstacles to success and problem-solve to find the most effective solutions. Finding someone who can replace this employee may be difficult. There are many qualified digital marketers, but fewer who have the type of leadership experience you are looking for in this role.
If you’re trying to recover from the departure of a key employee, gathering information about the specific areas in which that employee produced the most value for your organization can help alleviate the negative impacts of the team member’s departure.


2. Manage potential setbacks during the interim period

Unfortunately, losing a key employee often comes with some form of setback, such as a downturn in revenue, a gap in operational functions, or a decline in team morale. Leaders can assign one or more employees to temporarily handle the previous employee’s responsibilities, but this can often lead to decreased overall productivity or burnout. Some teams may consider “quiet hiring” during such times, permanently utilizing the current team to fill the previous employee’s shoes after their departure. This strategy can work in some cases but has the potential to overextend your current employees and decrease your team’s overall trust in your organization, especially if this increase in responsibility is not properly compensated.
As you work with your team to ensure each member of your team has what they need to continue high- quality service and company operations, spending time on an internal recruitment process can often add even more to your plate. The most effective course of action during this difficult period may involve assigning one or more interim employees for the missing role while you partner with a talent acquisition firm to find someone for a permanent position. This way, you can spend time ensuring all the responsibilities of the previous employee are handled effectively while trusting that a highly competent and experienced permanent team member is on the way.


3. Define new position responsibilities and gather requirements

As part of your talent replacement process, you will need to define the responsibilities of the new role based on the previous employee’s total impact. This may mean creating a new job title that encompasses all of the actual duties of the role or communicating with your team to determine what pieces have been missing since the employee left.
Skilled talent acquisition partners, like Talento Human Capital, work directly with your team to determine these key requirements. This can help improve the efficiency of the recruitment process while ensuring candidates can meet your expectations for the role from day one.


4. Try to find the best candidates for the role

The next step is to begin finding and communicating with qualified candidates for the role. Finding these candidates can be daunting, but there are many tools at your disposal. Executive and professional search firms that specialize in replacing high-value team members can expedite this process and ensure you end up with the right person in the position. These firms conduct detailed searches for candidates that not only fulfill the minimum requirements for the job but also have the business acumen, transitional skills, and expertise necessary to fill your previous team members’ shoes from day one.

LinkedIn is one of the most popular platforms for searching for qualified candidates but sorting through hundreds or thousands of applications can be time-consuming and can sometimes feel like a game of chance. Internal HR and recruitment teams often do not have the available resources to find all-star candidates that can replace key executives or other essential contributors. Streamlining this process with the help of a specialized talent acquisition firm can allow your team to focus on maintaining the quality of their work while key member positions are still being filled.

Talent acquisition partners can also find the right people even if they haven’t applied to work with your organization or indicated that they are open to work. Using a well-established network of over 500,000 qualified candidates and cutting-edge candidate search techniques, Talento Human Capital can secure interviews with highly competent and accomplished people in your industry that may be difficult to reach otherwise.

Related: What Are Passive Candidates (And How To Target Them)


5. Determine if they are a good fit for your organization

Next, you can begin interviewing and assessing whether your favorite candidates have what it takes to replace one of your best employees. When skilled recruiters conduct this portion of the candidate search process, they may dive deep into the candidate’s experience, skills, and other qualifications to determine whether they genuinely have what it takes to succeed in the open role and achieve results in the first 30, 60, and 90 days.

During this period of the talent acquisition process, you may negotiate the salary and benefits packages for the key roles you’re trying to fill. Depending on the type of role, this negotiation process can make the difference in being able to secure interest from candidates who can fulfill all the role’s challenging requirements.

This simplified version of the talent acquisition process only provides a basic outline of the steps required to replace the largest contributors to your organization. To provide the resources for this endeavor, many scaling organizations choose to utilize an experienced full-service talent acquisition partner, like Talento Human Capital. We are businesspeople first and specialize in supporting and empowering organizations to find people that not only perform well in their roles but can contribute to the business’s overall mission and aims. Learn more about our 10-step talent acquisition methodology that all our customers use when they’re ready to find new essential team members.

Read more: Talento’s 10-Step Assessment Methodology


How to ensure you retain key members of your team

Now that you’ve successfully replaced a key member of your team and feel confident in their ability to scale your organization, you can work to ensure that the new and existing members of your team remain happy. Here are some factors that often help employers reduce employee turnover and improve long-term loyalty:

  • Cultivate an employee-driven culture: Build your organizational culture around the people that actually work for the company, rather than imposing a culture that may not fully represent all members of the organization. Engage with your team about the current culture of their work environment and set time aside for culture reimagination sessions that call for input from all members of the organization.
  • Provide competitive compensation and bonuses: As much as managers may want to believe that their team is intrinsically motivated by their company’s success, competitive salaries and other forms of compensation are often much better motivators. This may include 401(k) matching, stock options, equity, and restricted stock units (RSUs).
  • Promote career development opportunities: Offering opportunities for employees to develop skills and gain experience managing new responsibilities can not only strengthen your team’s overall performance but show your team that you care about their future.
  • Consider flexible, hybrid, or remote work environments: Conduct an anonymous survey with your team to decide which type of work environment they’d prefer. Work-life balance is one of the most important factors in deciding to stay with a company long-term.

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What To Do When a Key Employee Leaves

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Executive Briefing, Recruiting & Hiring