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Separation anxiety: Prepare for employee exits

successionplanningThe recent death of Justice Antonin Scalia highlights the duality of employee exits. For exits like Justice Scalia’s, it is unlikely that within hours of death, friends and family ponder the vacuum and replacement challenges the employer will face. Exits like Justice Scalia’s may precipitate introspection by remaining employees – resolutions to focus on family and work-life balance; or a realization that regardless of the power or indispensability of a role, in the end it really is “just a job”, because, as far as we know, we leave it all behind.

However in most cases, whatever the reason for the exit, the organization lives on and must address the vacuum. To proactively prepare a succession plan for potential exits, business units can do the following:

  • Identify all tasks that each team-member performs. Ask team-members to list their tasks, as existing job descriptions may be too high-level for this purpose. This list should be updated periodically.
  • Identify one or more backups for each task.
  • Provide backups with adequate cross-training and shadowing opportunities.
  • Consider options to fill vacuums temporarily, for example:
    • Temps – consider over-hiring to increase the odds that the temp can ramp up quickly and effectively.
    • The departing employee – negotiate as long a transition period as possible. Or, ask them to help on evenings or weekends or to be available for quick calls to give directions or answer questions from backups, temps or new-hires.
    • Other ex-employees.
  • Remember internal controls. For example, it may create segregation of duties issues if employee functions mirror each other. Consider using compensating controls, and granting restricted access to backups, to the extent and time required for adequate training. Full access may be provided when the backup must fill in.

By Apolone Gentles, JD, CPA,CGA, FCCA, Bsc (Hons)

Apolone Gentles is a CPA,CGA and Ontario lawyer and editor with over 20 years of business experience. She has held senior leadership roles in non-profit organizations, leading finance, human resources, information technology and facilities teams. She has also held senior roles in audit and assurance services at a “Big Four” audit firm. Apolone has also lectured in Auditing, Economics and Business at post-secondary schools.

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