Top Performer Quit? 4 Ways a Team Can Thrive Despite Losing Key Talent

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wanted to “build something special,” so they left the Warriors and Celtics three years ago to join the Nets.  

Fast forward to today, the Warriors and Celtics both advanced to the NBA finals (Durant and Irving got swept in the first round), and the Warriors got their fourth ring.  

Durant and Irving are inarguably some of the most talented in the league; however, basketball, just like business, is a team sport. A well-managed team can thrive despite losing key talent.  

Here’s how: 

Invest in the B-Players 

The success of a team can’t be attributed to one player. As a leader, it may be tempting to spend all energy on the Durant of the office, but it’s arguably even more important to spend time building up the rest of the team. A players (those who show up early, stay late and go above and beyond) have the talent and drive to keep themselves going and are likely top producers on their own.

B-players are those who have the potential to become the next star, but need a little help to get there. This requires identifying high-potential employees, and pushing them to take their work to the next level. Take inventory of the bench: who has a strong work ethic and desire to improve? Consider giving them a project that will stretch their skills or recommend a course or book that can give them a boost. Sometimes this may even mean taking a project or responsibility from a top performer to give a B player a shot.  

This may be uncomfortable, but a team is only as strong as its weakest player, and they need opportunities to show what they’re capable of and to get valuable hands-on experience. Developing a team requires taking a few risks and pushing them to achieve more.  

Don’t be Afraid to Push 

Especially in today’s market with the quits rate 20% higher than pre-pandemic levels, leaders are afraid to challenge and push talent to hit goals and metrics. Going back to the Warriors, it would be crazy to think about Steve Kerr not pushing Steph Curry because he was too scared of Curry’s reaction. If Kerr didn’t pay attention to Curry, didn’t correct a mistake he made on the court, didn’t suggest an alternative approach…didn’t coach him, Curry would think something was wrong. Strong employees want direction and feedback; they want to be coached. As soon as leaders pull back on that, they’re doing more harm than good.

Proactively Assess Workforce Needs  

Even if a team is stacked with talent now, it’s impossible to know when the tides could change and when top players may leave. Preemptively create a succession plan to prepare current employees to become leaders of people or process down the road. Start by identifying specific skills the organization will need for new challenges and projects in the next year or two. Analyze what teams are poised for growth, what leadership roles will be required to support the growth, and who internally could fill those key positions before looking to hire externally.  

Don’t Hold a Grudge 

When a top performers leaves, don’t hold a grudge. Wish them well and offer to be a reference if they’re leaving on good terms.  

When an employee exits an organization, keeping lines of communication open is key. Check in on them to see how they’re adjusting. After a few years working elsewhere, they may even decide to return. “Boomerang employees” (when companies rehire former workers) has become much more common over the last year.  

Remember, an individual does not make or break a strong, well-managed team. Continue to push people to grow, provide development opportunities, and focus on building and maintaining a strong team culture. The strongest teams are forged in the fire, and this challenge could provide under-the-radar players the opportunity to shine. 


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