10x Lasting Impressions
How to create a 10x Exit experience!
You woke up sleep deprived today. You have a small baby at home who wanted to play with you all night instead of sleeping, or perhaps, you broke your promise to only watch one episode of Squid Game, and went to bed at 3am! But you wake up regardless. You’re an adult with responsibilities, not just of your family but also of the team(s) that rely on you. You get your morning joe, and you show up at work, for work. And that’s when it hits you - your star employee approaches you to have an important chat, and (s)he lays it on you. (S)he has decided to quit! Your initial instinct is to think about all the critical projects that are going to derail because of this event, your mind is racing to somehow “undo” this situation - but you’re wiser, you’re a 10xManager. You know the employee’s decision is about her career and your job as a manager is to support that above everything else. You calm your racing mind, and listen. You listen to the employee about the motivations of this decision. You open-mindedly help her evaluate options, and you demonstrate you’re still her champion as you guide her to make the best decision for her, even if that means, you and your team are going to be in a pinch, at least in the short term.
Your work starts well before this event, of course. You need to be on top of what each of your employees is feeling pretty much every single day. You need to partner with each of your team members on challenges and opportunities, growth and setbacks, personal motivations and aspirations. When you openly collaborate with your employee about his career, you would enable him to see what’s best for him based on his talents and goals. This is when it becomes scary sometimes - because some of these opportunities may lie out of your team, organization or even company. But you don’t shy away from this, just because it’s scary. You embrace it even stronger because it’s scary. As a manager you’re an agent for your company, but you also can be a champion for your employee’s career, and I don’t believe they are mutually exclusive goals. Even if you excel at doing all of this, once in a while, an employee may surprise you with his/her decision, or at least timing of the decision, and that’s perfectly normal too.
You must try to evaluate whether another opportunity within your organization, or company would be better suited for your employee, but very much with the mindset of a helpful friend and coach. If something does work out, great! - but do an honest retrospective on this one as you could’ve made this opportunity available to this person possibly sooner. Sometimes, you may find the employee is switching careers or domains and your company is no longer the best fit for what the person wants to achieve, in that case, it is time to create a lasting impression one final time.
So far, we’ve talked about voluntary departures. In many ways, they’re easier for the employee as (s)he is already excited about the next endeavor. However, this is not always the case with departures. Sometimes, due to financial constraints, you need to eliminate certain jobs as part of limited restructuring efforts. Or you need to terminate some employees because of a wide variety of issues (performance, business conduct violation, harassment). The exit experience should handle all departures with utmost class and dignity.
What should you do? Well, it would help to start with a goal, and let me clearly state what that goal should be - All employees should become brand ambassadors, future clients, engaged alumni, and potential re-hires. With the goal in place you work backwards. All your team members will eventually quit. You want them to look back at their experience, working with you, with your organization, and the company as the best experience for their professional growth. You want them to take away the learnings, the experience and prepare them for an unmitigated success anywhere they go. Like a good teacher, you partner with them to upskill their expertise, retool their knowledge and prepare them for success in a wide variety of circumstances. When I became a manager, I had a fantastic boss who became a great mentor. He used to say, “Strive to create an organization which is a talent magnet, where people come in on the first floor and leave at the top floor.”ˆ He will be proud to know that I’ve taken his advice to heart!
Here is the framework I’ve come up with that one should follow to make a great lasting impression:
Collect Feedback: Meet with the employee, and make sure someone on your management chain also takes some time to meet with this person to ask for candid feedback to improve processes, product and employee experience. Ideally, have a senior leader from a different part of the business also participate in this activity. Don’t pay lip service here. Try to really dig in. Be transparent about sharing this feedback within your management team. When you have enough data points, try to seek patterns. Involve HR partners. This may lead to revising certain policies, e.g. employee mobility within the company needs to be prioritized, market reference range for the compensation needs to be revisited, more training and growth opportunities need to be made available, etc.
Share Appreciation: Make sure you take time to publicly thank this employee for all his/her work and accomplishments. This becomes particularly tricky in case the employee is being let go due to performance issues, or limited restructuring efforts. Even in these circumstances, you need to make sure you highlight the achievements you and the employee are proud of, and showcase it to the rest of the team. You want them to depart on a happy note, and full of confidence. In some rare cases, you might have to let go of someone who is “just not the right fit”, or “net negative” - even in these cases, I would urge you to find the successes as I don’t believe anyone is “all negative”.
Succession Planning: As a manager, you should constantly look at areas to de-risk the business, and that involves departure of employees. You should also develop a culture of building a strong bench. In fact, when possible, you should involve the person exiting, in developing the succession plan in partnership with you. e.g. This may involve some TOI (transfer of information) for key projects, or finding a replacement and training that person. By setting this expectation, you’re setting your team up for great success and a great legacy.
Follow Through: Keep in touch! Make sure you exchange relevant professional information on a period basis. You also need to be their one point of contact for anything they need regarding their employment during your time together. e.g. I’ve partnered with HR to fix errors in their employee verification letter after the employee exited, and was working on her loan application. You also need to make sure you continue to provide guidance as needed for the person to succeed in their new role. Most importantly though, you need to be willing to welcome them back with open arms should there be some hiccups (business going down resulting in layoffs, misalignment in role,...) in their new jobs. If the person doesn’t have a job lined up, and needs your help, whenever possible, try to actively identify an opportunity that might be a good fit for them. Your relationship with your employee is not a transaction but a continuum.
Building something long lasting takes a lot of intentional effort, and orchestrating a 10x Exit experience might be the greatest legacy in the professional world!