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When Important People Leave: Circle the Wagons and Fire Up the "Us vs. Them" Machine...

If you're like most companies, you have people leave all the time.  They generally fall into one of three buckets:

-People you're happy to see go because you don't have to fire them (or you're really bad at cutting the cord and wouldn't fire them, at which point you are super happy). Us vs them

-People in the middle. You don't want them to go, but your business won't collapse if they leave.  It's hard to get fired up as a result.

-Key People.  Losing people in this category really hurts.  You probably were moved to make a counter offer, but they still left.  It's going to be hard to replace them.

Now I could go on a rant and talk about how many people actually belong in the "key people" bucket and who's actually not replaceable - it's a smaller number than most of us think.  But I'll spare you that rant today.

Instead, let's talk about communications.  What do you do when a truly key person decides to take his/her talents elsewhere?  Do you send them a public thank you, wish them well, etc?  Or do you take it personally and subtlety let everyone in the organization know that they've made a mistake, and you're going to crush them"?

What?  Too harsh?  Hang with me for a second.  Let's look at the example the Los Angeles Lakers (pro basketball) and their star Kobe Bryant set when fellow superstar Dwight Howard opted to sign with another team.  More on celebrating departures from the Big Lead:

"Clevelanders reacted to LeBron James’ Decision by burning his jersey en masse. Kobe Bryant reacted to Dwight Howard’s Decision in a healthier and less demonstrative way. Not long after D12 announced his intentions to take his talents to Houston, Bryant posted this warm and fuzzy picture of himself and longtime teammate Pau Gasol to Instagram.

The caption translated means “we go together, Lakers heart, wine.” It’s throwing severe shade in any language.

Bryant also took the step of unfollowing Howard on Twitter, so his social media rebuttal is now complete."

It's easy to do what's expected when a key, talented person leaves your team and wish them well, etc. - which basically signals to all that you're OK with it and expect it.  One unexpected cost of that is that everyone on your team sees that the cost of leaving - The professional relationship with you, the company, etc - is pretty low.  

No bridges burned?  Great?  Let me start looking for another job!  There's no cost!

Everyone does what's expected in this area.  Look around - no one is really making it us vs them when key people decide to leave your company.

In fact, the celebratory emails when people leave have gone far enough that I'm going to zig why the world zags.  I think you'll get more attention and loyalty if you figure out a way to channel a little Kobe Bryant the next time a key person decides to jump ship.  So much so, I'm going to noodle on it and give you five ways to tell the team that remains it's "us vs them" the next time a key person leaves.  I'll try to get that out next week.

Got a good strategy to help me build the list?  Hit me in the comments.  Until then, start thinking about what you do when key people (not just anyone) choose to leave your company.

Are you messaging that you expect key people to leave? Probably. Is that what you want to do?  Probably not.



First two comments, neither of which will help you with your 5 ways.

1. Agreed that the list of truly key people is smaller than most think. And if you are not on the list, it's OK. And, you are still on the truly key list at home.

2. I've always hated goodbye celebrations unless the person was retiring or COMPLETELY changing industries. But that's just me.

OK, here are two nominees for your list. The first is a warm and fuzzy. The second is more action oriented.

1. Do some team building even if you just order in pizza. Make the bonds of those left tighter. If you have a charismatic leader than can paint a bright picture, have them at that function to say a word or two.

2. Take a brutally honest look at why they left. See where you can improve.

Bonus entry: Don't speak ill of the dead.


Love this article. We had a close call a few months ago with a brilliant employee. His boss called me and asked what the organization was planning on doing about his employee being at risk. I was on fire and heart broken – how could this have happened? My response to the supervisor– “you are the organization right now and if you were the CEO – how would you respond?” He called me eight hours later with a great plan. We saved the almost lost brilliant employee. Don’t wait until it’s too late to value, engage, inspire, show love to your team. Then if they walk – maybe they should.


Pigging-backing on AV,

I had a boss (manager of managers) go through 1 chapter per week in a book called "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em". It took almost no time in his staff meeting and was very informative.

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