You are not maximizing the opportunity of a team member leaving.
The Dreaded Conversation
It starts with that funny feeling when you’re asked to chat outside of normal interactions. When you meet the topic comes quick; you hear the news that a team member is leaving. There is always an instant feeling of “how could you?” Ironically, if that team member wasn’t even an average performer, it still creates the sting of rejection. You probably clamor out a half-hearted “Congratulations” as your mind races through the “what-now” scenarios. How can I replace them? Who will take over their workload? When will I tell everyone? These are the immediate issues you’re concerned with. After you soothe yourself into hoping it will work out based upon your quick planning, you take to task the basic checklist of getting them out the door with as little pain and disruption as possible. Roughly the same elements occur when you are letting someone go. There is simply less stress because you got the benefit of determining the outcome and controlling the timeline, ideally.
Losing a team member, regardless of the reasons is always a tough and less than ideal scenario. What if, we as business owners, made the absolute most of it? Changing our perception of the event from one of struggle to opportunity. The start of turning this into an opportunity, begins with a few core philosophies.
Core Philosophies of a Good Exit
Genuine gratitude helps overcome the initial sting of someone leaving. Regardless of the manner in which someone is exiting, being thankful for the time they have given and the contributions they have made is extremely important. It is the basis of the value of the potential relationship going forward. Your team member will remember the genuine feelings they received in that moment the most. Any sense of ill will or half-hearted statements on your behalf will make any other part of the process seem less genuine. This was likely a hard conversation for them and no easy decision, therefore a compassionate and grateful reaction goes a long way.
You might be posing a lot of “what if” scenarios to being grateful for someone who is leaving your team. What if they were only there two weeks? What if they were a bad team member? What if we never got along? No matter the circumstance, there is something to be grateful for in every situation. Grateful they had the courage to leave once they knew it wasn’t a good fit, grateful for whatever minor contributions they made, and grateful they were professionals to the end. You can decide later how you’ll handle issues and learn from the situations where someone is leaving on all of the supposedly bad scenarios.
Once you’ve gotten past the initial hurdles of an exiting team member, it is important to have a plan in place to celebrate. Celebrating exiting team members shows the rest of the team the Gratitude you have for their contributions. In some respects, this is less about the team member leaving and has more value for your existing team members. In addition to reinforcing your gratitude to the team as a leader, It gives them a chance to celebrate someone they might be very close to. Celebrations don’t have to be grand, just public and thoughtful. On a side note, it is important to be consistent and transparent in how you celebrate exiting team members. You’ll want to avoid situations where a there is the perception of preferential treatment for one team member over another. Not all celebrations need to be the same, just consistent across similar roles, tenure, etc.
The team member that is now about to be an ex-team member is a walking testimonial for your company. A last impression won’t override all of their previous impressions, good or bad. However, providing an exiting team member assistance, especially if they were terminated, can make up for any negative feelings and certainly reinforce positive ones. Here are a few means of providing assistance when someone is leaving:
Thorough Admin Work
Ensuring all the loose ends of benefits, pay, and everything else are addressed and communicated.
Offering a reference, introductions to recruiters and other networks, help with their resume, etc. You’re not obligated to vouch for someone you don’t feel comfortable with, just make sure it’s a practical assessment, not an emotional one.
Benefits Above and Beyond
Highlighting the length of time and what benefits they have access to can provide relief, especially for terminated employees. Pay beyond their last day is never required but could be considered as a practice on a case by case scenario. For example if a team member is leaving near the end of the year, it might still be good to give them all or a part of their bonus. Going a little above what is expected can go a long way here.
*Note: Consult an HR professional when evaluating your team member exit process and means of providing assistance.
Make it a point to follow up and stay connected with past team members. Continuing to value a team member after they are no longer part of the business shows them you truly do care about them beyond their employment. If they were good, it keeps the door open for future employment. They also might become a referral source for open positions, or even new business opportunities.
If you did nothing else, this is perhaps your best opportunity to gain value from a team member leaving. Find areas to improve the job responsibilities, what you’re looking for in the next person, or even a possibility to train and promote a current team member. Taking the time to really assess the value of a specific role can provide numerous long lasting benefits to the business.
My best success story of staying connected to a former team member came in the form of landing a multi-year, multi-million dollar client. Not only did they enjoy their time at the company, but given the respect and care in which we handled their untimely exit, it was a no-brainer for them to bring us along at their next employer.
I’ve helped my network find new team members, helped former team members start their own business, and see people into new career opportunities they are passionate about. All from following the core philosophies contained in this post. No single action took much more than a few minutes, just some attention and caring. From an action perspective, I’d say it’s probably the best return on investment I’ve ever made.
Ready to re-think your exit process?
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