When you work on a college campus, fall is exciting. At the start of a new school year, having new students and faculty members on campus make for a busy, fun time. This past fall, however, I lost a team member, who left our organization for new employment. As a manager, I was excited to see this person grow as a professional, yet I knew it also meant that I had to go through the hiring process. While some may say the hiring process is fun and exciting, the prospect of going through it in a tight job market was not something I was excited about. Losing an employee also meant I had to fill in, taking over that person’s responsibilities until I had my new staff member in place.
I looked at this situation as an opportunity to dig into this role and decide how to shape it going forward. As I did so, it was eye-opening. I’d always felt like I knew what my employees were doing; however, this experience proved me wrong. The more I did, the more I discovered. I found out that our team had made a lot of commitments and promises for work that we did not need to be doing. The more and more I dug to the issue, the more I realized I had not done a good job of managing this employee.
My leadership style falls toward the path-goal theory, with some laissez-faire leadership thrown in. I give my employees the benefit of the doubt, because they are professionals, and I trust their judgment. Unfortunately, I trusted a little too much in this case, and now, it was coming back to haunt me.
If there was a silver lining, it was that by doing this person’s job, I developed a stronger understanding of the role, which parts of it we could eliminate and what the role should be like going forward. I rewrote the job description to create a role that fills a void on our team and will enable us to better serve our clients going forward.
Here are my lessons learned to help you when you lose an employee from your team:
Do Their Job
I know we are all strapped for time; however, it’s important for you to know what your employees really do. By spending some time in this employee’s role, I was able to better understand the demands of the job, and I realized there were many ways we could streamline it.
Review the Job Description
Are there tasks that you can eliminate, transfer or add? It’s easy to just post the previous job description, but has the role evolved since the last time you advertised it? By reading through the existing job description carefully, I was able to edit it so it appealed to a broad spectrum of candidates. In a tight market, you have to have a job description that grabs the attention of job-seekers. Today’s candidates are picky when looking at openings, just like we are picky when evaluating resumes.
Find out What Your People Are Really Doing
Yes, they meet their deadlines (and we like that!), but what else are they doing? I believed I had a solid grasp on what my employee was doing, and I had received positive feedback from clients, so I felt like I had nothing to worry about. However, as I dug deeper into the role, I found multiple commitments that this person had made and never told me about.
Ask the Hard Questions, and Expect Answers
I admit that I was often caught up in questions that were easy to ask, but as managers, we have to ask the hard questions. We may receive pushback, and we may not like the answers — but handling difficult situations is part of our role. Great employees will not feel threatened or take it as a personal attack if we ask the right questions.
It Is OK to Trust!
It would have been easy for me to replace this role with a new person and then not trust that person to do the job. But I would have spent my days micromanaging them — and that is not the type of leader I am. I like to put the right people in roles where they can use their skills, so micromanaging is not on my radar. To build trust with my new employee, we need to concentrate on open dialogue and transparency.
My job is to ensure that work happens in a timely manner and meets the expectations of our clients. To develop trust, both the employee and I need to willingly participate. My goal in replacing this position is to find the right candidate and then build trust together.