Replacing a Derek Jeter: How to Cope When Your Top Player Quits

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Whether you’re a Yankees fan, a baseball fan — or not a fan at all — chances are you’ve heard of Derek Jeter. This weekend, the All-Star shortstop is sadly playing the last few games of his 20-year, remarkably consistent, Hall of Fame career. For many baseball fans, like me, this marks the end of an era. And naturally, you can’t help but wonder – what’s next for the Yankees?

How do you replace someone with that level of talent? Someone who carried a .309 career batting average, slugged over 3,000 hits, had a winning attitude and was the ultimate team player. Throughout 20 seasons, Derek Jeter had zero career ejections, zero run-ins with the media or management and a leadership skill set that made him the obvious choice for perennial team captain. Without a doubt, management will miss his impact on the team, the organization and the city of New York.

In this Yahoo! Sports article, Derek Jeter stated, “I’ve experienced so many defining moments in my career; winning the World Series as a rookie shortstop, being named the Yankees captain, closing the old and opening the new Yankee Stadium. Through it all, I’ve never stopped chasing the next one. I finally want to stop the chase and take in the world.”

How can you blame the guy for wanting to move on? He has seen and done it all. But even with the advanced season-long resignation notice Jeter gave, ownership had a hard time envisioning a team without the face of the organization. “It is kind of surreal to think about the Yankees without him [Jeter] in the lineup”, said New York Yankees owner Hal Steinbrenner in this ESPN article.

How would you replace the Derek Jeter of your team?

The truth is, we all lose top performers at one point or another from our organizations, teams or groups. I believe the most difficult part of a top employee resigning is accepting it. You may feel you could’ve prevented a resignation by taking certain measures of your own, like decreasing workplace stress, increasing salaries or offering better growth opportunities. While I would agree that having career growth opportunities, a strong culture and better pay will help you retain employees, sooner or later one of your “All-Stars” will walk away.

So, here are a few pieces of advice to help with the transition:

Never burn bridges.

Most likely you will cross paths again. Make sure to publicly and sincerely thank the employee for all that he or she has done for the team and organization.

Communicate to your team effectively.

You’ll have to inform your colleagues about your employee’s resignation. Make sure to stay positive and devise a plan for the transition of workload. You want to grow trust, and communication during this time of uncertainty is key. You definitely do not want to display the unease that you may be feeling inside.

Answer the question.

What qualities did that person have that are absolutely necessary to be successful in this job? Could their replacement be a leader? How will they fit in with the company culture? Can they handle the workload? It’s important to identify and clearly define the key qualities and responsibilities of the opening.

Your next “All-Star” could be your next hire.

Or perhaps he or she is already in your “farm system.” Sometimes when an opportunity arises, someone on your team just needs a chance to prove him or herself. Case in point, Derek Jeter had the “Yankee fan favorite torch” passed to him by Don Mattingly, who had a stellar 14-year career with the team.

Although I’m an avid Atlanta Braves fan, I’ll be tuning in to Jeter’s final games against his rival team, the Boston Red Sox. His last At Bat in Yankee Stadium on Thursday was a true storybook finish. There’s no doubt I’ll get goose bumps and tip my hat along with all the other fans around the world, including Boston Red Sox fans, whom Jeter has wronged so many times.

The good news for me, as a fan, is that I get to take the offseason to relax and get charged back up. The Yankees will need to dive into the farm system or the free agent talent pool to recruit a new shortstop.

Keep the above concepts in mind – your wish list of attributes can truly make that position successful and will dictate how they fit in with the culture and the team. Be transparent in the hiring process, giving candidates all the necessary information and expectations you’ve developed.

I look forward to seeing what will happen in Major League Baseball over the off-season with staffing changes, and will start the countdown to Spring Training soon! Oh wait, the playoffs are beginning? As I said, I am an Atlanta Braves fan…there are no playoffs in baseball for me.

If you’re looking for resources to help you manage your talent, we’d love to be your MVP.

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