What to do when good people leave


There are times in every business when we face the challenging and often sad news that one of our key managers has decided to move on. The first reaction from leadership is often surprise. “How could we have missed this?”

This thought is followed by fear and dread. “How will we make it and what will people think?”

Finally, it evolves into the ill-fated attempted save. “What will it take to keep you? We’ll do anything!”

Losing a key manager is never easy and can be traumatic to owners and to the organization. But believe me, it’s not the end of the world. At first glance losing a key employee can feel like a long-term setback, but my experience tells me that it’s not as bad as it may seem. In fact, it can be a blessing in disguise.

Due to the economic uptick this year, there seems to be an extraordinary amount of movement in key management positions at landscape companies. In the past few months I’ve seen many veteran managers decide to leave comfortable positions at good companies out of the blue, leaving unsuspecting leaders scratching their heads.

In the management transitions I’ve been involved in this spring, which includes a manager of a million dollar lawn care division, a successful design/build manager, and a high-level account manager, there were already cracks in the foundation that may have been overlooked. It may have been time for a change earlier, but either the employee or the owners weren’t confident in making a change.

So what’s really going on? I think one of the reasons connects to the word “comfortable.” It’s been said that “comfort is the enemy of progress.”

On one side you, can’t blame a key player who may have gotten comfortable through the lean times but now has gained the courage to step out and up to the next level in his or her career and life. On the other side, as owners, we may have to admit that we too have grown too comfortable with mediocre performance at the expense of progress.

Rethink your mindset

The bottom line? Unexpected change can be the catalyst we needed to rekindle a bigger dream.

If you’re bemoaning the loss of a manager this year, consider the benefits and take advantage of new opportunities. Turnover of key employees can lead to positive changes for the company that may have seemed impossible with the previous structure. Instead of dwelling on the loss, focus on the opportunities.

Here are a few thoughts to consider:

  • Self reflect to be sure your culture is sound;
  • Shore up the confidence of concerned team members;
  • Recast the vision for the future in the vacated area;
  • Define the ideal leader going forward;
  • Pull the rest of the leadership team in and build enthusiasm for the future;
  • Don’t dwell on the past—embrace your new future; and
  • Dream big!

Finally, remember that no one person makes a successful company. As the accomplished basketball coach John Wooden is credited with saying, “ The most valuable player on the team is the team.”


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