top of page

"Well, I Didn't See That One Coming"​: 5 Secrets to Dealing With Surprise Resignations in Your SPD

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Source: Christopher Horner/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


When one of your team members walks out of your office after tendering their resignation, one thought probably comes to mind  . . . "Ouch, that hurt."

But the time for self-pity is short lived. Although some resignations carry with them the sting of personal defeat, others are tinged with bitter-sweet excitement for a new opportunity for growth and professional development for your former employee. Regardless of the 'reason for the leavin,' as the leader of this team, it's your responsibility to keep the steam engine of Sterile Processing chugging down the tracks. For the unprepared, these surprise exits can be hard to bounce back from, so here are a handful of helpful tips to keep your team moving in the right direction when you're one man down:

1) We Meet to Part: Exit Interviews 

Before you let them leave for good, schedule some time for the two of you to sit down and have what Human Resources likes to call an "exit interview." Depending on your particular facility guidelines, this can range the spectrum from curtly formal to casual conversation. Regardless of the flavor, the reasons for doing an exit interview are myriad. This is your opportunity as a leader to get insight on your department from someone with a little less inhibition than usual. What's working? What's not? What your opinion on the recent changes we've rolled out? Was there something we could have done sooner to change your mind about leaving? What first excited you about this job -- and how has that changed? You may not get answers to all these questions, but it's worth it to try. This will also give your former employee the opportunity to gain more structured 'closure,' and signal whether or not they want to keep their professional bridges standing as they move on to the next big thing. 

2) Control the Narrative: Calm the Fears

I'm sure none of you work in departments that deal with gossip . . . but for those of us who do occasionally have problems with the grapevine, it's important to realize the great temptation that resignations provide for those self-appointed "communications directors" in your midst. Because many departments resemble small families more than small factories, you should expect there to be some amount of chatter circulating about the who, whats, where, whys, and when of the resigner. In the midst of all this, your job as a leader is two-fold. First, ensure that you know exactly what your former employee wants shared with the rest of the team and what they do not. Every person has different comfort levels for how these decisions are communicated with others, so make sure you are not an unwitting source of inside information for the rest of your team. Secondly, make sure you -- as the leader -- control the narrative of this resignation. Whether they are leaving for good or not-so-good reasons, your team still has the same vision of SPD excellence laid out before it. Stay ahead of the communication curve and let your department know how/if you plan to fill this gap; while assuring any of the faint hearted that this is not the beginning of the end of anything. The ship will continue to sail, even if the faces of the crew have to change.

3) Redeem the Time and Share the Wealth (of Knowledge)

Depending on the job classification this resignation comes from, you will only have so much time remaining with the employee (assuming, of course, that this is not a Johnny Paycheck style notification). Typically it will be the classic two-week heads up from a frontline technician, or a four-week notification for supervisors and managers. Either way, the point is that these folks are leaving soon and they're taking their brains with them. If possible, this is your cue to go all "Matrix" on them and try to download as much of their individual department knowledge as possible for the benefit of future Sterile Processing generations. Are they the technician constantly getting compliments on the certain way they process Micro-Hand trays? Ask them to show you specifically how they do it. Are they the supervisor who usually places your department orders for stock? See if they would be willing to train the other supervisors on how to do it before they leave. If you've built the proper respect and trust with your team members prior to their resignation, they will be more than willing to do this for you before they go. 

4) Most Likely to Succeed

Succession planning is one of those principles popular in the business world, but few of us have ever found much appreciation for in the realm of Sterile Processing. Simply put, succession planning is "a process for identifying and developing internal people with the potential to fill key business leadership positions in the company." [1] This does not mean "playing favorites," without any regard to skill, leadership ability, or credentials. What it does mean is this: Everyday is an interview. As a department leader, you should be cognizant of the fact that your leadership team may not always stay whole. And if someone does leave, you shouldn't have to rack your brain about the internal candidates who would be best suited to vie for the position. Again, if you are doing your job as a leader to develop the skills, credentials, and experiences of your team, there should always be a couple of folks waiting in the wings who are "most likely to succeed." [A little caveat for those of you wanting to be seen as potential leaders: Start leading right now, right where you're at. You do not need a title to be a leader. In fact, many "leaders" fail because they never had the true spirit of a leader and only held the title. Be proactive now about pushing yourself, gobbling up credentials, becoming the expert on your department's instrument tracking system, volunteering to give inservices, etc. If you want to be seen as a leader, take a page out of the Boy Scout's handbook and "Be Prepared." If you work for a boss like me, just come ask us what you can be doing now to be ready when the time comes. We want you to know.]

5) Before the Dust Settles, Make the Change

So this final point is a bit more pragmatic in its scope, but it may be helpful nonetheless. Occasionally these surprise resignations will also provide you with windows of opportunities for quick changes in processes or protocol that have previously been deadlocked by powerful personas or just the normal inertia of twenty years of "this is the way we've always done it." This doesn't mean that the person who is leaving is the reason the change hasn't happened yet, but the natural shake-up of normality that occurs when an employee leaves the organization is sometimes an opportunity to pull the trigger on something new that's been held back for one reason or another.

An example of this could be a new weekend rotation you had been planning to roll out to the staff in a few weeks, but were holding because it would change the current make-up of which teams worked which weekends. With the new resignation, you will have to change the rotation anyways -- why not make it all happen at once? By extension, pay close attention to any turnover in OR leadership that could provide an opportunity for your team to step up to the plate and request more accountability for service to their team. These are not times to go crazy with change, but if the stars of opportunity align, be ready to make the most of it.


With that, here's hoping nothing comes out of left field for your team today . . .

Batter up!

Hank Balch

Beyond Clean © 2019


bottom of page