Senior developers have seen their share of turnover, and they understand that it’s all a part of being in the IT field. Does that mean they like it when team members leave? With some rare exceptions, they normally do not. Turnover is disruptive. It means that the remaining team members need to compensate for the person who left. It means that you have to take the time to hire a new member of the team and get that person through a learning curve before he or she is productive. In general, turnover is bad—unless we are the ones leaving. In that case, it’s always a great opportunity.
This column is not about how to retain people. That could easily be a book by itself. Instead, we’ll offer some pointers for keeping a team productive when someone leaves.
Let’s assume that you work for a decent company, you make decent compensation, you have a decent manager, and your company stock price has not dropped at least 80 percent over the past year. (Again, I stress—these are assumptions!) In spite of all that, one of your team members leaves. Maybe that member has been promoted internally. Maybe his or her spouse was transferred. But someone has left. How do you and your team react? Although you can complain about the hardships this departure will cause the team, turnover can have positive aspects as well. Here are some constructive ways to deal with team turnover.
Goodbye, good luck…
When a team member gives notice, first take care of the basics. Congratulate the person on the new opportunity. Make all the appropriate jokes, like asking if the new company needs anyone else and telling the departing employee that he or she will be blamed for all problems for the next three months.
Next, get down to business. As soon as possible (the same day would be great), call a meeting with the team member and others the person worked closely with. Document all of the responsibilities of the person leaving. Determine what work he or she has been assigned. Be sure to remember any ongoing roles and responsibilities. For instance, was the member providing primary support for one or more applications? Did the person validate that the financial systems are in balance? Sometimes it’s hard for people to articulate everything they do. Ask the other team members to bring up anything that was missed.
Determine what work will be completed before the person leaves and what needs to be reassigned. This reassignment may be for the short term until a replacement is found or for the long term.
Everyone who is assigned one or more of the responsibilities needs to work closely with the departing teammate to cross-train and learn as much as possible about what needs to be done. Hopefully, you have at least a two-week notice to make these transitions. However, the bottom line is that when the person’s last day arrives, all of his or her work must either be completed or transitioned to another team member.
One of the positive aspects about turnover is that it provides opportunities for remaining team members to increase or change responsibilities. For instance, if the person who left was doing Web development, you may not need to immediately hire another Web developer. Maybe this is a chance to have another team member assume the Web responsibilities. I have seen instances where a resignation provided an opportunity for four remaining team members to change responsibilities and pick up new skills. This can cause some short-term pain and productivity decreases, but your team will come out ahead in the long run. This strategy will also position your team with skilled backups who can be counted on for expertise if other team members leave.
As a senior developer, you have seen turnover before, and you will see it again. Don’t panic—just work through it. In the short term, make sure that all the current responsibilities of the person leaving are understood and transitioned to remaining team members. Then, look for the positive benefits that change can bring. Work with your manager to evaluate the skills and desires of the remaining team members, including yourself, to see how the work can be reallocated so that everyone can get new application and technical experience.