We were just over two months away from wrapping up our best year ever. Momentum was strong. Morale was high. And, the team I had worked so hard to fashion was humming in high-performance mode.
And then the shoe dropped.
In late October one of my senior executives was recruited away, enticed by the allure of a Silicon Valley Unicorn, an equity stake, and the promise of an IPO within the next couple of years.
We still crushed our targets, but, I was deflated.
Employee attrition, at all levels, can be disheartening and disruptive. Nobody wants to see a high performer leave. But too often, as leaders, we dwell on the departure and allow it to get in the way of continued performance.
Fortunately, as I was sharing my disappointment, a good friend of mine asked a poignant question and changed my frame of mind:
“What could be the biggest advantage or opportunity of his departure?”
Why is it that I’ve had to learn the “what does this make possible” lesson over and over? I should have known better. But, regardless, this was exactly the question I needed to hear. And, it’s the question you need to ask the next time you lose a key player.
The answer to this question allowed me to view the bump in the road as a launchpad to get to the next level. Viewing it in the light of opportunity allowed me to celebrate the executive’s opportunity, tweak our organizational strategy, and bring in a new leader with a fresh perspective. A mere 4 months later I am looking back and seeing how this one-time punch to the gut has turned into even greater momentum than we had in the first place.
Unfortunately, most folks don’t have such wise friends who are there in a crunch. Too many leaders don’t have the foresight (or good friends) needed to take advantage of “normal” turnover. Instead, they remain stuck in their regret and focus on finding a direct replacement.
Here are a few questions that I used to narrow down my thinking and help determine what this inopportune turnover made possible:
- What has changed since this person was hired?
- What would I change about this role if I could start over?
- What was the biggest priority for this role when the individual was hired?
- What is the biggest priority for this role now?
- How has the maturity of the organization changed the type of leadership I need?
- What organizational changes should I make in light of this transition?
- What skill sets are needed to balance out and compliment the team?
By asking a few questions, reframing the situation, and being deliberate about replacing key talent, all leaders can learn to turn lemons into lemonade.