Leading Through Change: 5 Ways to Help Team Members During Staffing Transitions

November 2019
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In the fourth quarter of last year, three employees resigned within a six-week time frame. One left for her dream job to write policy for a women’s fund; another moved back home to be closer to family; and another decided a corporate PR position was the right career move for her. 

For our small, close-knit agency, it was a difficult blow at a tough time of the year. Team members were understandably sad to lose several colleagues who had become close friends and confidantes. And they were anxious as they anticipated who would handle the work that their trusted colleagues managed. 

In public relations, it’s not surprising when people move on — namely young professionals in their first job. In the course of our 30-year history, we’ve watched this play out many times: Bright young professionals eagerly jump into agency life, only to ultimately decide to take their careers in a different direction. 

As we’ve weathered waves of transitions, one thing has remained consistent: It’s always tough for the team members who are left behind.

Transitions can take a toll — especially when several people leave at once. Here are five ways you can help your team during a challenging time of change:

1. Invest in preparation.

While you can’t know for certain when an employee may leave, having a transition plan ready for such an eventuality is critical. We pride ourselves on being a flat agency and we allow our capable team members to run accounts and make decisions. But we also ensure that a partner — someone who likely isn’t going anywhere — touches every client. When a partner is visible, they can help ensure continuity for clients and team members during a time of transition. 

2. Communicate early and often.

Communication is a no-brainer in our line of work. Taking the time to communicate honestly and openly with your team, starting with the day an employee decides to leave, is critical. Be transparent. Acknowledge that the transition time could be rocky and emphasize that you are all in this together. While they may have to take on some extra work, leadership is doing the same thing (and show them by rolling up your sleeves next to them). Provide updates on the process and involve them in staffing decisions.

3. Embrace a mentoring program.

Candidly asking how employees are feeling during a time of transition is an easier conversation if you already have an open line of communication. The best way to accomplish this is to already have a strong mentoring program in place that regularly encourages frank and transparent discussions. A mentoring program also fosters individual growth, so when a position changes at the company, it can present an opportunity for a team member to fill a role and grow in their position. Our mentoring relationships have inspired team members to speak up and ask for new opportunities.

4. Keep the candidate pool filled.

Many of the agency leaders we admire have the same mantra: Have a talent pool ready. We frequently meet candidates in our market even when we’re not ready to hire. Having a qualified pool of candidates to contact when a job is available has paid off for us. We haven’t had to start over every time someone leaves. We’ve also involved team members at different levels within our agency to meet with candidates to provide their feedback and impressions. 

When the time comes to fill the position, our team has most likely already met with the candidate and can evaluate the person for the roll they will fill. When we haven’t met the candidate previously, we invite team members to participate in the process and help determine if they’re a good fit.

5. Review lessons learned.

Once the dust of a staffing transition has settled, the work doesn’t end. Take a moment to gauge how the situation was handled. How do your team members — new and tenured — feel about things? How might things be done differently? It’s this reflection that will help you cope better next time — and the time after that.

What have you learned through your own staffing transitions? Drop me a line at bcastellini@wordsworthweb.com. 

photo credit: westend61

Return to Current Issue Leadership | November 2019
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