As a business owner, you likely have someone on the team you rely on heavily to help you run the ship. This person often becomes invaluable to the day-to-day operations as well as big-picture planning. But unfortunately, you don’t get a guarantee that, that employee will stick around forever. Sometimes new opportunities crop up, life changes occur, or the person just craves something different. When a treasured team member resigns, you might feel shock and panic if you didn’t see it coming, but here’s a step-by-step plan for a smooth transition.

1. Find out why

A resignation can come as a surprise, but it can also be an opportunity to make essential changes to your business. The individual might present a reason for leaving upon giving you his/her notice, but if not, it’s OK to ask. Try to set your emotions aside so as not to put the person on the spot. Maybe your star employee is moving out of state to be closer to family. In that case, perhaps the position can be done remotely. If the employee specifies a job unhappiness as the motive for the departure, maybe you can modify the situation and the person will decide to stay. At the very least, if necessary, you can fix the issue to prevent further upheaval.

2. Review legalities

You may require your hires to sign non-compete or confidentiality agreements. Review that paperwork with the resigning employee immediately so that you’re both on the same page. Then take any necessary steps to secure company assets. Also review with the employee any information about insurance policies, final paychecks, etc.

3. Make a communication plan

Talk to the employee about what information about their departure they’d like presented to the rest of the team and how they’d like it shared. The person might be leaving for a personal reason they’d like kept confidential. Perhaps the employee prefers to break the news individually or wants to hold a meeting in which you make a brief announcement. Work out a plan with the employee and move forward with communicating the resignation in a way that makes the best sense for everyone, including your remaining crew.

4. Train other staff on key tasks

An employee departure presents the opportunity to shake things up. Maybe you have another employee ready to fill the position or the specific skillset required must come from an outside hire. Either way, you’ll likely need to go through a process of transferring information. A hiring process may take some time. Meanwhile, take a complete role inventory of what this person did for the company. Assign crucial tasks to others temporarily until you’ve once again got a trusted person in the slot.

5. Start the hiring process

Post a comprehensive listing of the role on relevant websites as soon as possible. A fast hiring process might mean you can enlist the resigning employee to help train the newbie.

6. Conduct an exit interview

Invite the person to a sit-down meeting. This is an opportunity for you to get the employee’s take on company workings, what they liked and didn’t, and what they’d change. But this meeting shouldn’t be all about the company. This person was a valuable member of the team, so thank them for their contribution. Find out if there’s anything you can do for them in the future, like providing a reference or recommendation.

7. Host a sendoff social

You don’t have to organize a big bash — unless you want to. A gathering, even if it’s just afternoon cake and coffee, gives other employees a chance to bid fond farewell, and the gesture sends a message that team members are regarded and appreciated.

When It’s Time to Move On

Chaos doesn’t need to ensue as long as you follow these steps when your key employee resigns. Transitioning on to the next big part of your business and learning how to handle these situations will help you become a better business owner. Visit our Learning Center for more articles on running your business.