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  • Writer's pictureEileen Smith

3 things to do when the GOAT of your office leaves the company

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

Tom Brady announced his retirement from the NFL on Tuesday, February 1. Every office has their own "Tom Brady" that they hate to lose, but it can be a good opportunity for change. AP Photo/Mark LoMoglio

  • Eileen Smith coaches executives and rising professionals in public speaking and executive presence.

  • She says saying goodbye to a star employee is a chance to show gratitude and strengthen culture.

  • Honor the departing employee, give other team members a chance to shine, and plan for the future.

In addition to being one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady is also a guy who prioritized helping his teammates achieve their highest potential.

Just this January, Brady famously refused to leave the field until he ensured his teammate Rob Gronkowski made one more catch to earn a big incentive payday.

It's hard to lose a teammate like that, whether your team is on the field or in the office. Whether the person who's leaving is your star quarterback, your work spouse, that junior project officer brimming with energy and new ideas, or the extremely capable administrative assistant who made the office hum with efficiency, take a moment to feel the loss. But how can the folks who are left behind make the most of it?

Start with appreciation and gratitude Adam Smiley Poswolsky, a workplace belonging speaker and the author of "Friendship in the Age of Loneliness," told Insider that it's not just about the star employee. "It's about the culture of your organization. Honor the employee for their service. Maybe it's an in-person reception where colleagues get to take turns sharing the impact this star employee made on them," he said. Let your colleagues know your organization cares about them as people, not just employees. A favorite tradition from a former office of mine was the goodbye parties we held for departing team members. Colleagues would gather up favorite quotes and stories about the person who was leaving. Sometimes we wrote and performed songs and poems. The process of pulling together the memories and planning the party served to celebrate the person who was leaving and simultaneously built bonds among the remaining colleagues.

Look on the bright side The departure of a star player "creates an opportunity for other members of the team to re-examine their place on the team and how the new dynamics fit in with their own goals," Daniel Okonkwo, region executive at JPMorgan Chase, told Insider. "Maybe the new playbook will play to someone else's strengths that didn't get focus under the previous playbook." Or, perhaps leadership has been overlooking an excellent team member because the star player was shining so brightly. As a leader, this is an important moment to frame the departure as an opportunity, rather than as a loss or a moment of uncertainty. Use it as an occasion for effective change management. Step back and consider what resources the team needs to accomplish its goals going forward, like a different structure or perhaps an extended timeline. This is also a good chance to reflect and bring the remaining colleagues in on the conversation. Ask them what they think is the best way forward. Seek to promote from within to build and reinforce company culture. This turns the loss into a possibility for someone else in the group. Let the team know you believe in them.

Recommit yourself to building resilience through preparation and succession planning Sampriti Ganguli, chief executive officer of Arabella Advisors, told Insider managers should open the aperture to the possibility of other key team members leaving. "Then, consider how you would fill their rolls if they left tomorrow," she said. There have been a lot of departures during the Great Resignation. Other employees' decisions to leave will be easier to manage if you can see them coming and have developed a plan.

Also, consider how to support the employees who are picking up the slack. Some people may see that new opening as an added burden on top of everything else they're trying to juggle while maneuvering between remote work, office work, and life management. If there's going to be a gap in coverage following the employee's departure, consider "repurposing those dollars to backfill the team," Ganguli said. "Giving a spot bonus to people who have to step up in their absence can go a long distance toward trust and recognition."

Losing your favorite or best teammate can be tough, but it also opens up exciting opportunities for both you and the rest of your team. And who knows, you might have a chance to work with your Tom Brady again in another place and time.

Eileen Smith is a public speaking coach, career whisperer, and former U.S. diplomat. Find her tips to help business executives, policy experts, and rising professionals achieve preparation, confidence, and career success at

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