Churn happens

If you’ve ever managed people, you are familiar with the little tap on your office door, followed by “Got a minute?”

Even if you have an open door policy and this person is in your office regularly, you’ve come to recognize the slightly hesitant tone in their voice, the awkward, uncomfortable silence after they settle into the chair.

You know what’s coming next.

“I’ve accepted a job offer at another company.”

Your inner voice will likely curse, because this individual is one of your better performers and it’s a busy time in the office.  Your outside voice says “That’s interesting! Tell me about it!”

I remember once reading that 2 per cent of your team is either in the first year of their employment with you, or the last year of their employment with you.  You know which ones are in their first year.  It’s not so easy to predict those employees in their last year.

Employee turnover, or churn, is inevitable for a number of reasons. I’m not talking about the people who leave because you un-hire them, or those that quit because the work environment is toxic, but those employees that outgrow their position, and you can’t provide the next step of challenge.

In small teams, advancing would mean waiting till someone died before a position came open, so they start to look elsewhere, but not because they want to. But because they have to if they don’t want to stay in the same position, at the same top of classification pay rate for the next several years.

Here is where leadership skills pay off in dealing with this dilemma. In this scenario above there are two outcomes:

1) Total surprise.  (Hint: This is not the right one). It means you may have spent too much time in your office. If you weren’t aware that one of your key players in your team had reached the limit of growth within your organization, there are much bigger problems.

2) Full support for the transition by both you and the other members of your team. While there never is a good time for churn, sometimes it is the right thing to do.  This announcement wouldn’t be a surprise if you truly understood your team’s personal goals and objectives. You would have already had the discussion around their long term goals, and together you would have been able to honestly agree that you couldn’t offer the needed progression.

Planning for churn

We use a term called “2 deep”.  What this means that as much as practical, we have at least 2 people familiar with core systems, network architecture, etc. so that we are never caught off guard when it comes to things like vacation time (you DO take vacation don’t you?), family issues, and oh yes, churn.

Some things to consider:

  • If one of your team tapped on your door tomorrow, do you know the projects they were working on, and the current status?  What are the long term projects in the pipe?
  • Do you have a good relationship with HR to be able to secure a replacement as quickly as possible, even if it is a contract position while you recruit?  The 2 week notice period you just received will evaporate in a flash.
  • If you have a number of people leaving, are you sure there aren’t underlying issues that are motivating them to look elsewhere? (This is a topic for another post…)
  • Have you scheduled your confidential exit interview?  I usually base it around the questions, “What worked well?”, “What can I do to make it better for your replacement?”, “What are the opportunities in your new position that you couldn’t get here?” just in case I missed something.  If you have built a good relationship with your team, these sessions are productive and valuable.
  • Get your team together fairly quickly to talk about the transition, preferably before the person leaves.
  • Celebrate the time you got to work together as a team.  I know that for many of you, the idea of an IT department “celebrating” is a marathon session of Star Trek TNG, but I can assure you, we can get randy sometimes… and bring in a big box of Krispy Kreme.

Have I missed any?  Make sure you add yours to the comment section below.

Churn is part of organizational life.  Whether or not it is catastrophic, or an inconvenience is a direct reflection of your leadership.

There’s much more to say, but I have much to do. I think I hear a knocking at my door…

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Kevin Pashuk
Kevin Pashuk
Kevin Pashuk blogs regularly about his life as a Chief Information Officer in the educational sector. His writings cover educational technology, IT leadership, and whatever else might be on his mind. Some people even agree with him.

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