How to survive the loss of a key employee

Posted on April 30, 2024 by Brad Hayes

We all know that feeling. A key employee, one who has been with you for decades, has historical knowledge in every area of the company, and has set processes for part of the workflow, comes into your office, and asks for a moment. She is carrying an envelope with your name on it.

That feeling of dread hits one second before your stomach drops, your heart palpitations can be heard across the room, and your head begins to pound. She is leaving, offering a gracious six-month notice, but still, leaving. Your right hand. Your go-to. Your partner in all things company-related. How will you, and your company, ever survive?

You and your company will be just fine. It is going to take some adjustments, some changes, but it is going to be OK. TTG recently celebrated the retirement of our long-time client service manager who had been with us since the very beginning in 1991. After almost 32 years of giving her all, Mary Pruett was beloved by our clients, by our staff, and by me. She was the primary point of contact for our clients. There is no doubt in my mind that many of those clients wondered how we were going to survive when Mary left.

She was already past retirement age, leaving at 7 or 9 p.m. or even 15 hours straight to get things done for clients. She and I had a conversation that started, “I have to replace myself, too. I must give back to this company everything I have taken – a lifetime of success, providing real solutions for our customers and a livelihood for every employee. We need to do the same for you. It is your legacy as much as mine, it is our legacy, to our company, our service to these customers and our co-workers.”

And so, we did. We had the conversation many times, always adding more information, more insights, and more inherent knowledge to our collective base. We began to shape a new position that was not meant to replace Mary, but to build upon the foundation she laid, brick by brick. And we had a few false starts, but we finally promoted from within, added another position, and have done amazingly well.

It was never about surviving the loss of Mary Pruett. It was surviving the loss of a key employee. And that took an understanding that no employee is here forever. All business owners and leaders must continuously plan. They must constantly build upon the culture they desire. And work – hard – to maintain. At TTG, we hire good people who get our culture. They believe in where we are going, what we are doing, how we do it, and want to go the extra mile. And they do it all with compassion. We miss Mary, that is a fact, but we also learned how to survive and even thrive when a key employee retires. It is a lesson we ‘earned.’

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