Know that how you handle the departure of a team member is mission critical to your cultural integrity. As part of the employee life cycle in your organization, you need to honor departure with the same depth as you do arrival.
If someone is leaving your organization due to life circumstances and choices — appreciate and acknowledge their contribution and wish them well in their next phase. If they are leaving to work with your competitor, or are leaving due to “disgruntlement,” same deal. Appreciate their contribution, celebrate their departure and wish them well. Leave a less bitter taste in their mouth — for two reasons — one because you care, and two, because it impacts your employment brand.
Then there’s the involuntary departure. In my management training, we have a workshop on “Dismissal with Dignity,” however this culture tip focuses on a different aspect of this process — the experience and perception of your team that remains after that colleague has left the building.
Here’s my recommendation for how to pro-actively communicate with your team regarding future departures of team members, as well as heading off voluntary departures, to improve retention of your top talent. (Add an intro and conclusion of your own style.):
“Whenever someone leaves our organization, I take it very seriously.
If it’s voluntary, I want to know why. I want to know why because if it’s due to life-changing circumstances then I want to celebrate and wish them well in their choice. While we will miss them, we as an organization can feel good to have been part of their journey and they a part of ours.
Now if it’s voluntary because they didn’t enjoy working here, I still want to know why. While the feedback may sting a bit and be hard to hear — it is at this point that we can learn, adapt and improve. I also want to honor their contribution and wish them well on their next phase of life.
The hardest part about this experience for me, as part of your leadership, is when it comes as a surprise — knowing we could have done something sooner had we known this person’s frustration.
I have a request. What I ask of everyone in this organization, is courageous courtesy. Please let leadership know your concerns BEFORE you go looking for another opportunity. I commit to you that if you give us this chance, I will either address your concerns to the extent they fit within our cultural integrity, or support you in finding another opportunity.
Now let’s talk about when someone leaves involuntarily — when we let them go. We address egregious and malicious actions swiftly. However, this is rarely the case. Often there is either a character mismatch that hasn’t had success in being coached, or a competency mismatch that hasn’t had success in being trained. Know though that coaching and training have been attempted. We don’t give up on people easily. We invest in our team. We care about those individuals who choose to be here and that we choose to have here. These decisions are never made lightly and require tremendous thoughtfulness. Just as I’m asking you to have courageous courtesy, you can know that at no point will anyone be “surprised” by being asked to leave due to a character or competency concern. That individual will have had sufficient notice so they can try to improve and address their character or competency mismatch.
We also honor one another’s dignity — which means we don’t share when someone is struggling. Unless a co-worker shares with you their journey, their departure may come as a surprise to you. Basic human nature doesn’t do well with surprises. You may even feel a sense of betrayal towards the organization. Your co-worker, your colleague, your team member, maybe even your friend, has just been fired. Here’s what I ask of you in those moments. Give leadership the benefit of the doubt. Assume our positive intent and know that the person had both ample notice and support.
As I stated before, I don’t take the departure of someone from our organization lightly. We are a conscious community, brought together to fulfill a shared purpose. It is our responsibility to make sure this community has integrity in both character and competency. To lose a community member is hard. To keep one on board that isn’t a fit is careless.”
To take a deeper dive into this sensitive yet crucial topic, check out Culture Works.