We’ve all been there. One of your best and brightest employees, one of your top performers, one of your high potentials walks into your office and asks for a few minutes of your time. You immediately get that pit in the bottom of your stomach. Your intuition jumps in and you know this isn’t going to be good. You start to kick yourself knowing, just knowing, you could have/should have done more for this employee.

“I wanted to let you know that I am resigning. Please accept this as my two week’s notice.”  Damn. Your intuition was right … again.

It’s overwhelming to think about the cost to replace this employee. The actual cost for the recruiter and getting someone new up to speed. The lost cost of opportunity by having an unanticipated gap in the organization. The morale cost of having an A-player leave and having other employees wonder if perhaps the grass is greener.

Our first reaction is to do 3 things: Bargain. Berate. Bypass. But, please don’t!

Don’t bargain!

Upon hearing the words, “I’m leaving,” please don’t immediately respond by saying, “What can we do to keep you?” Don’t offer a bigger job or a better paying job. What message does that send? “We value you, but really weren’t going to let you know how much we valued you until you were so frustrated you decided to look elsewhere!” And, while it might work, and you may retain that high-performer in the short-term, you have set up the expectation that when the going gets rough again, then the same action/reaction may come into play. It may not address the root cause of why your high-performer was looking to leave in the first place. Fancy titles and more money are nice, but most people answer calls from recruiters or start browsing job postings for more macro reasons such as not feeling like they are being listened to or appreciated. Lastly, if other employees learn about your response, it could trigger a similar reaction from them in hopes of a similar response.  Instead,

Don’t berate!

Don’t pull the parental “I’m so disappointed in you” card. Guilt trips never work.  We hated hearing this when we were 16, and we certainly don’t want to hear it at age 36 or 46. Don’t get angry. Who can blame a good employee for looking elsewhere if his/her needs are not being met inside your organization? At the end of the day, it behooves both you and the employee who is resigning to take the high road. Don’t take the resignation personally, and instead provide a supporting and encouraging response. Most people won’t expect this and will truly appreciate it. Few people enter into a resignation conversation without a few nerves about how it’s going to go and how their boss is going to react. And, you never know if that new job isn’t all it was scoped out to be, and that employee may want to come back. Leaving the door open to being able to work together again in the future is key.

Don’t bypass!

Don’t bury your head in the sand and bypass the opportunity to learn from this experience. Ask yourself, “What, if anything, could I (or the company) have done differently to retain this employee.” Sometimes it’s nothing, and you have to be OK with that. Other times, you will learn that there are things you could have done to increase engagement and decrease the retention risk. This is always a good time to re-evaluate who else you consider to be key employees, and check in with them … what’s working, what’s not, what else do they need, and how can you help? Remember, it’s often been said that people don’t quit jobs, they quit people. There is truth in that sentence. Turn the mirror around and take a look at what you can begin to do differently so as to minimize the risk of losing key employees again in the future. This will help to reduce (never eliminate) future blindsides.

Good employees are always going to resign. Opportunities too good to pass up will come along. Relocations will happen. Life priorities will change. You’re not immune to hearing, “I’m leaving,” but what you can control is how you react and respond when you do hear those words. Don’t bargain, don’t berate, and don’t bypass the opportunity to learn. Trust that behind every high-potential is another person waiting to become your next high-potential, highly-promotable, A-player!