If you lose your key staff, are you prepared to maintain security?

Leaders need to assess and prepare for the security impact of key people leaving the organization while making it better for those who stay.

The LinkedIn alerts announcing connections with new positions seem to come more frequently. Perhaps my anecdotal experience matches a recent headline proclaiming that nearly two-thirds of IT staff is actively looking -- and preparing -- to find a new job in the next two years.

The challenge of a headline designed for attention is figuring out how much is wishful thinking versus those with a foot already out the door. In my experience, situations like this never work quite as expected (for anyone).

Headlines aside, it poses an important -- and commonly overlooked -- question:

Considering three types of people in your organization

Whether driven by external circumstances, a poor fit, or something else, as a leader, pay attention to three categories of people:

  • Happy and plan to stay
  • Want to leave, but may not for a variety of reasons
  • Will leave (or in the process of leaving)

Awareness of these categories and the tendency for people to move through them during their careers guides action. It’s not a suggestion to scrutinize and score the team (lest it cause more problems). Instead, this an opportunity to assess the environment and get a sense of how things are going for the people who work there.

Are you creating an environment where people want to stay?

When considering the potential of someone to stay or go, place emphasis on understanding the context they work in. The environment contributes greatly - often reported more than salary - to whether someone stays or leaves.

Does your environment:

  • Reward people for their contributions, creating a reason to stay and a pathway for the future?
  • Give people a voice, let them use it, listen, and then act on what was learned?
  • Offer training and support necessary for career advancement -- as well as for backup and resilience?

“What if we train them and they leave?” asks a manager.

“What if we don’t, and they stay?” replies the leader.

It’s important to keep engaged, productive team members happy. By creating a culture that listens and provides for the growth of your people, they’re more likely to stay. And if they leave, perhaps they part on better terms.

Broader, however, it makes it easier to attract new people to the team when the time comes.

Preparing for the loss of key personnel

All-too-often, companies don’t fully appreciate the role someone played until they are gone.

Start by assessing key positions and roles. The trick is gaining clarity of roles, responsibilities, and influence without creating more problems. Push past politics and the desire for everyone to be essential to truly understand where a departure would create a lapse in security or hardship for the team.

When key roles are identified, explore how the work is done. Pay attention to the knowledge and experience taken for granted. Consider the role automation and training play in improving the functioning of the team, reducing reliance on single people, and building more resilience into the team.

Initially, it might make sense to keep this as a quiet mental exercise. Depending on your current environment, undertaking an exercise like this may be misconstrued and create more tension and problems instead of improving the situation.

Start with a conversation

People are already talking about leaving - or those who might. That makes is a great conversation with your team - and your colleagues. Talk about the security implications of losing key people. Ask them for suggestions and allow individuals the responsibility of documenting, training, and improving the process.

You may find that candid discussions lead to a stronger team and better security. And if someone leaves, at least you’ll be better prepared.

What steps are you taking to maintain security in the event your staff leaves?

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