HR: Saying goodbye is hard to do

Let’s face it - the chances of having a 100% retention rate in any company is slim to none. And when you are a small team, just one person leaving can have a significant impact. We are a tight knit crew here at BizDojo and in the last year or two we have said goodbye to a few team members as they have gone on to pursue their passions, higher education and, with our latest departure, seek fame and fortune in New York. I have been doing quite a bit of reflection on this recently, and while I definitely don’t pretend to have all the answers, here are five key things that we have taken onboard to manage these exits gracefully.

1. Get the message out as soon as possible
Don’t keep it a secret - it is not fair to the person leaving to have to keep it from the people they work closely with every day, nor is it fair to the team who need to plan for handovers, etcetera (more on that soon). We’ve found it really helpful to have a clear process around this - making every attempt to let the rest of the team know within 24 hours, or sooner if possible. When it comes to letting customers know (so pertinent for us given that we work side by side with ours day in and day out), we make a list of touchpoints that our departing team member has and decide how and when they need to know, and who that message will come from and get the word out as soon as practically possible - making sure that we can be clear at this time about what this will mean for the customer.

2. Plan ahead, be prepared
Once the team gets over the shock of a person leaving, they inevitably start thinking about who is going to cover the workload left behind and how the handover is going to work. Knowledge transfer is critical in any business (e.g. “what happens if you get hit by a bus?”), and no one person should ever be indispensable. With that in mind, clear processes and a focus on documentation are imperative. Having a clear recruitment process also can’t be underestimated - being able to kick into action as soon as possible to fill that space whilst assuring the team that you are working on it. Touch base with your team to work out how tasks can be re-assigned and hand-over processes put in place right from the get go so everyone knows where they stand. Make sure key dates are clear from here on out, such as last days, recruitment campaign kickoff, and handover starts. And on that note - more often than not, there isn’t time for a handover from the departing team member to their replacement - so be prepared for that eventuality.

3. Try not to take it personally ... but make sure you take the reasons behind it seriously
Richard Branson’s now famous quote “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to” resonates strongly with me. It’s hard when someone leaves, and really hard not to take it personally when you’re a small tight knit team. It is important to take the time to understand the reasons behind the resignation, reflecting on what you could have done to prevent it happening: did the employee feel valued? Did they see career progression? Did we truly understand them, what their career ambitions were and what motivated them? This is an important exercise because while it’s inevitable that team members will leave, it’s not always unavoidable - and we use this experience to refine our people strategy and decrease that risk of churn.

4. Celebrate
Crafting a great team culture is not just about how you treat your team when they are with you, it is also about how you treat the team that leaves you too. We celebrate that exciting next move in the departing team member’s career or life plan. Our leaving cards are crafted in house and always there is seemingly crazy leaving gift - but one that is oh-so-right for that particular team member. A soft toy cat that looks like it's breathing [Helen who left us last year] or a luxe notebook wrapped in wood veneer for jotting down new adventures [Rab who left us a couple of years back] or a super hero cape for our most recent departure Gil as he flies off to New York. We throw a goodbye party (or often parties plural) to make sure that past and present residents have a chance to say their goodbyes too (it matters).


5. Keep that connection
We keep in touch with all our past employees - whether it’s through the twittersphere if they’ve taken off around the world, or invites to the [in]famous Dojo parties. Let’s face it... they should be our best brand advocates, they could well be a great business connection in their new role, or we may be able to entice them back one day. But ultimately, we genuinely like them and want to stay in touch. Once part of the Dojo family, always part of the Dojo family.

Tracy is the General Manager for BizDojo [NZ] when she is not wrangling the BizDojo team she is tweeting! Follow her here.