4 ways to recover from losing your star employees

15 October 2015 -


As the BBC’s Robert Peston heads over to ITV, Insights takes a look at how companies can best deal with the loss of their leading staff and fill the void that is left behind

Jermaine Haughton

There will soon be a gaping hole in the BBC’s senior news reporting team, as its long-standing economics editor Robert Peston confirmed his shock move to competitors ITV. Now, bosses at the BBC face a stiff challenge to fill the gap left by the journalist, who has been a recognisable figure for many British households over the past decade.

The departure of key staff hurts companies of all shapes and sizes, but how would your company react if your rock star employee moves onto a new employer?

One of the main responsibilities of all managers is the challenge of building, managing and developing teams, as the correct handling of the workforce can be the key difference between success and failure.

However, the task of forming a successful and well-balanced team is incredibly time-consuming, expensive and stressful – as most business leaders would attest too. Also, the development of an organisation’s workforce involves a number of moving parts, such as compensation rates, company culture and identity. Therefore, having one of your most talented announce his/her departure to pastures new can be heart-breaking.

There are a number of reasons why the star performer might leave. Like Peston, who will become ITV’s political editor and the host of a new Sunday morning talk show, they may be set to earn a bumper salary and status increase. Or perhaps they just want to try a new experience, such as Poldark, Call the Midwife and Happy Valley television executive Danny Cohen, who announced this week that he will be leaving the BBC and is said to be considering offers from companies both here and in the US.

Then there are the other cases where individuals feel they have reached their limit at a company. Keith Krach, the chief executive of $3 billion (£1.9bn) startup Docusign shocked employees and observers alike by stepping down from his position, despite successfully raising £180million in May. Similarly, PlayStation UK boss Fergal Gara resigned after leading the PS4 to record-breaking success. Leading the PS4 launch in 2013, Gara helped the product to become the fastest-selling console in history and has left to "pursue a new professional venture”.

Besides their individual work results, the trust and dependability of keystone performers can be difficult to replace, and the higher up the departed employee ranked within the organisation, the more pressure on recruiters to get their replacement correct.

Some retail experts believe Tesco would not have been in the significantly poor position it stands today, following its £262mn accounting scandal, flawed acquisitions and a failure to adapt to changing shopping behaviour if Sir Terry Leahy hadn’t retired as Tesco chief in 2010, after transforming the business into the world's fourth-biggest retailer during his 14 year tenure.

Nevertheless, research shows that few employers have backup plans should star performers leave their company. A Robert Half Management Resources survey finds that nearly half (46%) of accounting and finance professionals say the company would need to hire an outside candidate to fill their position. For executives, that figure climbed to 58%.

A separate report shows the lack of a back-up plan to be costly, with employers paying on average £30,614 for replacing each employee who has left their company. The total includes the cost of lost Output while a replacement employee gets up to speed, which takes 28 weeks on average, and the logistical cost of recruiting and absorbing a new worker such as advertising costs and agency fees, and the time taken to interview prospective candidates.

So with that in mind, here are four tips to blunt the blow of losing one of your star employees

Use ordered exit interviews

Ask departing employees open and honest questions about what has led to their decision to work elsewhere. Reassure the individual that all answers will be held in confidence and not taken personally. This tactic can reveal problems in the workplace, such as bullying and stress, which needs to be addressed by bosses.

Break down the role requirements

By outlining the main duties needed for the vacancy and the projects that are dependent on this person for successful completion, employers can gain a better idea of what skill set and experience level they require from prospective candidates.

Carefully manage the transition phase

Once an employee had given in his/her notice, show grace and acceptance towards their decision. Rather than overload the employee on his last two weeks on the job, encourage the individual to support their existing colleagues and/or their replacement in passing over duties and methods of practise.

Have a back-up plan

Like a Premier League football manager builds a large squad of players in case his star striker gets a long-term injury in the first game of the season, bosses are encouraged to develop succession planning for senior and executive leaders, and a reliable team of freelancers and temps to replace middle management or positions with acute skillsets.

Image by Rich Hayward

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