By Chester Elton
On Wednesday night, I was at my local Apple store with my son Brinden when everything stopped. Employees from every department excused themselves from various conversations with customers and formed a human corridor down the middle of the store. Then they started cheering.
It wasn’t to launch a new product. No, it was to say goodbye to an employee who was leaving for another job — outside the company.
Anthony walked the gauntlet of cheers and backslaps with a wide grin. Wow, I thought, that’s how you say goodbye. He was honored in a public way, and unabashedly in front of customers. This Apple store did it right.
So often, goodbyes are done badly.
Friends on Wall Street have told me horror stories of their calls to Human Resources. After being “made available to the market” (a real comment from one HR person) they were then escorted out of the building by a guard with a Glock on his belt. Nice.
In offering advice to managers, I want to focus today on the quitting employee—someone who is moving on to a new opportunity. Often these people are treated indifferently or even callously. Perhaps they get a few minutes in a conference room with their team and then are shuttled off to HR to figure out their COBRA health plan. Or maybe they are asked to clean out their desks after-hours, alone, so as to not disturb the workflow. They end up leaving in the dark with a few cardboard boxes of personal items.
A sad and lonely way to end your time with a company that proclaims, “People are our most important asset.” Yeah, right. You think those employees are ever coming back? You think they are recommending your company to their friends?
The way you say goodbye says a lot about you, your values, and your culture. A dignified separation allows both parties to leave with good feelings. It’s advertising you can’t buy. The norm is a missed opportunity, worse is a damaged relationship—not only to those who leave, but to those who stay behind who see how you treat those who want a new challenge.
It doesn’t take too much to make a potentially bad situation into something positive. Here are some simple tips for the bosses of departing employees:
- This isn’t about you. Actually, sometimes it is about you. Maybe the departing employee hates you. Get over it, because even then you can’t make this about you. It’s about the person who’s leaving and, even more importantly, those who stay behind. How you say goodbye says a lot to his friends and co-workers. So stiff upper lip, smile, and take the high road.
- Let them go graciously. If a valuable employee wants to quit it’s certainly worthwhile it to put up a fight. Start with, “Is there something I can do to change your mind?” No counter offer at all sends a message about their value to you and the organization. But recognize that, in most cases, by the time most employees come to see you they have one foot out the door and offering more money probably won’t help. You can usually tell their true intent in that first conversation—is it to get a little more compensation or really leave.
- Time things right. Two weeks is all the transition time you are going to get, or should expect to get. Unless the employee is your CEO, any more is overkill. Seriously, make them stay a month and they won’t do much of anything the last few weeks anyway.
- Say thanks. Let them know their service has been valued.
- Have a party. Yes, you have to actually stop work at some point to acknowledge their departure. Take them and the team to lunch—and pick up the tab—or have a get together near the end of their last day.
- Ask for advice. With a pad of paper in front of you, ask what you can do better as a leader, how the team could run better. They may not be completely honest with you at first, but if you stay open and receptive and start taking notes, chances are they’ll start sharing some valuable tidbits.
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