Q: I have a small business with only four employees. What can I do if a key employee leaves?

A: Unfortunately, it happens. Employees move on for better opportunities or family issues or any number of other personal reasons. First, understand it’s not about you and second understand it’s not the end of the world. Wish them well but find out why they are leaving. There may still be a chance to keep them as your valued employee. If not, it’s time to implement your contingency plans. Who knows, at some point in the future this key employee might be willing to come back and work with you again.

Request that the tasks the employee performed for the company be documented so someone new can step into the job. They might even be willing to help train their replacement or cross train the rest of the team so no important tasks are left undone. Update the job description and determine the best way to recruit a replacement. Evaluate the salary and benefits you will be offering to make sure they are attractive to highly skilled potential employees.

Communication with other employees is critical at this stage. Let team members know about the changes as soon as possible to avoid rumors and speculation. Reassure the rest of the team. Ask for input in developing a hiring strategy to replace the person who is leaving. Other employees may have suggestions for moving forward. It’s important the remaining employees feel positive about the company leadership and direction your company is headed. This may be an emotional time for all so it could be helpful to schedule individual listening sessions with the other employees.

Employee turnover is uncomfortable but not insurmountable. In fact, an employee who has been mentored by you moving on to bigger and better opportunities is an indicator of your success and leadership. This is an opportunity to grow your company to the next level. This is a good time think about the strategy for the next five to ten years and what skills will be needed to grow then hire for the next step that needs to be taken.

The SBDC is a partnership of the U.S. Small Business Administration, the Oregon Small Business Development Center Network, the Oregon Business Development Department and Southwestern Oregon Community College. Arlene M. Soto has been the Director of the Southwestern Small Business Development Center since July 2007. To ask a question call 541-888-7001, e-mail asoto@socc.edu, or write 1988 Newmark Ave., Coos Bay, OR 97420. Additional help is available at the OSBDCN Web page www.bizcenter.org.