Helping people leave: it’s part of a manager’s job

Leaving a company is usually difficult – even when we tell ourselves it won’t be.

Even in the worst work situations, there’s usually someone you’re going to miss or an aspect (or perk) of the job you wish you could maintain.

If nothing else, leaving a job is leaving the familiar. Going to a new job, no matter how awesome the benefits and how great your interviews went, is still entering into the unknown. You’re the new kid, and you don’t know anything compared to those who’ve been there awhile.

It’s like going to a new school in 8th grade. Welcoming you just isn’t anyone’s first priority.

While there are many companies that dedicate people to onboarding programs, very few people consider how someone leaves.

As a manager, it’s always been something at the top of my mind.

When I first inherit or hire new staff, one of my first conversations is to understand why they’re there, what their expectations are and what they want from the position. Nearly all of the people who have worked for me did not consider their position the last one they wanted to have in their career. I think as a manager, you have to be realistic about that.

While I’ve always had the best departmental retention rate of any department everywhere I’ve worked, the fact is that people still leave eventually. That’s just a fact of career progression.

Most people know that they are most likely to get bigger raises, better title promotions and the most different opportunities by moving companies. Some companies are better than others at retaining talent, but if you hire people who are hungry, have big goals and are rarely satisfied, they’re going to move on at some point.

My approach with my employees is always to empower them to innovate and let them try new things. I try to give them as many opportunities to explore their own abilities and learn new skills. I also try and give them as much exposure and transparency as I can into the company and other departments work so they gain professional perspective and global business knowledge.

My success metric for a departing employee is where they go next. If they make a lateral move or take a position that is a step back, that is the sign that I failed as a manager because it means they’re more motivated by leaving me than stretching themselves into something great.

By contrast, if they take a position that is a huge step forward – more money, greater or different responsibilities, a better title or simply something the current company couldn’t offer – I know that they have done all they could in their current role and it was time to move on.

I look at management as being an advocate for your employees. To that end, I’ve also asked that my employees be honest with me about when they’re seeking a new opportunity. This allows for a few things: I get warning that I need to replace them, I get a chance to give them an opportunity I may not have known they wanted, they get my assistance in their job search and they get a recommendation from me.

It’s not uncommon at all for me to get up to three months notice that someone is leaving, which gives me plenty of time to create a transition plan and seek a replacement. It also helps that employee find something truly great and go with a recommendation from their current employer – which is not at all common.

In fact, I’ve been a reference for several employees, and the greatest challenge is explaining to the prospective employer why I would give them a recommendation if they’re as good as  I say. But once explained, it has always made sense, and my employee has always gotten the job.

No one wants to spend much time on employees who leave because their no longer contributing to the business. But as managers (and, I think as people), I think we owe it to our employees to be realistic about why they’re there, what they want, and where they eventually want to go.

While I want to help my employees contribute as much as possible at the current job, I always want to make sure their next move – whether internal or leaving the company – is as fantastic as I can help make it. I see it as my responsibility.


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