When a trusted, long-standing associate leaves, where does that leave you?

Throughout my career, many clients have shared with me the mixed feelings sparked when a long-term associate leaves the business. It’s never easy when someone leaves a practice, especially on short notice.

I’ve heard this story hundreds of times and listened patiently while a practice owner tells me how this feels. They handpicked their associates. They recruited them right out of school. They taught them everything they know. They helped them build their career. In short, they more or less helped them get to where they are today.

And then that young protégé they mentored says, “I’m moving on.” Sometimes he or she gives a lot of notice and is honourable about it…and other times he/she gives no notice or doesn’t even show up and sends a resignation by email.

I’ve been very fortunate that this has only happened to me on a few occasions and not for many years. When it happened the last time, I had known for some time that there was some staff dissension. The company has grown rapidly and my management team has expanded to the point that not everyone fits in, particularly those who started when the business was a small and intimate corporation.

It can be devastating when your long-term business relationship is suddenly and permanently severed. Even if you have a premonition, you really don’t see it coming. As a principal you might think, “They are probably better off with me than without me, so I can’t believe they would actually leave.”

In reality, principals should prepare for the eventuality of an associate leaving. If and when an associate feels able to do so, he or she will go his or her own way. Knowing this might help in your planning process, but it does not lessen the drama and stress that follows such a departure. What’s also deflating and disruptive is the confusion that results for patients.

For the most part, patients don’t like change when it comes to their caregivers. Principals are often left with major knowledge gaps and ignorance of patient’s preferences, established procedures, financial considerations and so on. And last but not least, patient confidentiality issues and company security measures may be at risk. More stress and consternation.

The truth is people will do what they think is best for themselves and their families, and I completely respect that because my own family has been protecting its interests for many years.

It’s the sudden impact of somebody simply saying, “I’m leaving.” That’s hard to deal with-no matter how many times it happens. We’ve all been through it in dating relationships, marriage relationships, friendships or business relationships. And when you don’t see it coming is when it hurts the most.

I’ve reflected on it in many different ways–anger, relief and most of all sadness. I still don’t understand where the relationship failed so badly. Remember, this is a business relationship. This is nothing like being in love with someone. Yet, I have to ponder, what could I have done better? Should I have been more attentive? Maybe I didn’t listen well enough? What did I do wrong? How did I upset this person to the point of deciding to leave?

Self-reflection is a large part of this experience, but when you’re a principal/owner and a long-term associate leaves, I can tell you one thing…

It hurts.

Timothy Brown

Timothy Brown

is Chief Executive Office of ROI Corporation Canada’s national professional practice and brokerage firm.

Jackie Joachim

Jackie Joachim

is Chief Operating Office of ROI Corporation, Canada’s national professional practice and brokerage firm. Please contact her at Jackie.joachim@roicorp.com or 1-888-764-4145.