Someone just quit

open-doorOne of your key team members just quit. A top performer, she’d slotted into the team as though she’d always been there, and quickly become your go-to person for several key initiatives. Now you’re wracking your brain, trying to figure out what just happened. Things were going so well, why is she leaving? Was it something you did? Didn’t do? How could she do this to the team? to you? How could you have missed the signs? How are you going to backfill her position? How long will it take before a new person is up to speed? How will this affect your project timelines and priorities? Is there any critical knowledge transfer that has to take place? What should she be doing in the next two weeks? Was there anything you could have done to prevent or delay this? Is there anything you can do to prevent her from leaving? Does this indicate a larger problem? Will there be any knock-on effects? Will other people leave, too?

Or maybe she was a steady worker, got things done, but quietly, and never really distinguished herself. Like most of the tech industry, your company gives outsized rewards to the top performers, but very little to slow-and-steady-wins-the-race coders. Now you have to find someone to fill her place, which will take time you don’t have. You’ll have to reprioritize projects, spreading too little butter over too much toast, adding stress to the entire team. She had good reasons for leaving – she might not have been stand-out, but she can get a much better deal and more respect elsewhere. You don’t blame her or disagree with her decision, but it leaves you in a bind.

Or maybe, once a rising star in the organization, she’d fallen from grace and been considered damaged goods by upper management ever since. Of course, you’ve loved having her on the team – you got her at a bargain, and she quickly demonstrated why she’d been so prized before the fall. But she’s been stifling on your team, knowing she’s been cheated, understanding the situation too well, and though you tried, there was nothing you could do to change the situation. You knew it was only a matter of time, but you were hoping for a little more before the inevitable.

Or maybe she didn’t get the promotion and raise she thought she deserved. You weren’t 100% sure at the time – and you need to be sure to fight for a promotion – but now you realize with sickening clarity that you’d hire her back in a heartbeat at the level she wanted.

Or maybe she hasn’t quit yet, but you can tell she’s about to – and there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe it’s for entirely personal reasons, maybe it’s for reasons outside your control. Maybe she’s already so angry or burnt out that nothing you say will make a difference. Maybe you don’t want to set a bad precedent. But you’re about to lose someone you wish you could keep.

Someone’s going to quit tomorrow, and maybe, just maybe, there’s something you can do about it. You can listen. You can try to understand the underlying issues. You can give her different projects, move her to a team more in line with her interests, spend more time mentoring or get help from someone with a more relevant skill set. Your power to increase compensation and title in the short term are usually pretty limited, so your options generally come down to spending more time, or finding a better fit.

Once a person is close to leaving, you have very little power to affect the outcome. At this point, it’s normal to focus on last-minute value extraction – completion of final tasks, documentation, diffusion of knowledge. Some managers become entirely unavailable to lame ducks – they might feel angry at being left in the lurch – or even betrayed – and besides, why should they waste time on someone who’s leaving? This is short-sighted and petty, of course – it’s a small industry, and people remember the kindnesses and indignities experienced at the hands of their managers and co-workers. So, assuming you have good things to say, write a nice recommendation on her LinkedIn page. Don’t cancel your 1:1’s. Exchange email addresses. When she’s gone, keep in touch. Meet for coffee or lunch every so often. Keep the connection alive. Maybe she’ll boomerang, or you’ll hire her at your next company. Maybe she’ll hire you. Maybe one of you will introduce the other to a great opportunity. Or act as a back-channel reference. Maybe nothing will come of it. But good engineers are hard to find, and now’s your chance to destroy a relationship, or build on it.

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