How startups should handle departing employees
is this considered a growth hack?
When people leave a startup - for whatever reason - it seems to sting a bit more than it would at a larger company. There's already less people per department. Plus, people are "wearing multiple hats" so when that person leaves, their responsibilities get dispersed across anyone qualified to take them on (oftentimes, no one is qualified 🤘). And with less budget to immediately fill the role, the remaining employees are pulled away more and more from their primary responsibilities (aka: the reason why they work there).
It's obviously not something you hope for but it's part of running a business. People leave, you gotta get rid of people, such is life.
I've exited jobs in all the standard ways: been laid off, I quit somewhat abruptly, and left amicably on my own (haven't got fired. maybe I should try it?). A couple of those were from startups. I've seen many people get let go or quit.
Here's a list of things startups can do to improve their business when someone leaves:
Note: The feasibility of these recommendations comes down to your company's culture and leadership effectiveness.
Is the leadership team actively working to create a more honest, transparent culture? If not, then some of these may be tough to implement. (Pro tip: actual company culture starts at the top. If your CEO checks out of any culture conversations or phones it in to marketing (classic), then no meaningful change will happen. Employees are looking to their leaders to guide the way, not the other way around.)
Let’s also assume the reason the employee is leaving is for nothing particularly negative. No one’s getting fired and they didn’t suddenly quit. That opens up a whole new set of communication and culture dynamics as well as recommendations. Maybe I’ll save that for another day!
Okay, onto the list…
1.Have an honest exit interview
Startups miss out on a lot of development opportunities when someone leaves. You could probably save over $100k by just having exit interviews instead of hiring leadership coaches.
No formal HR? Have it with another senior member of the company the employee did not directly report to. Or hire someone to listen to them vent and report back details and maybe some recommendations. Lots of options here! No excuses!
2. Actually put some thought to the knowledge transfer
The ex-employee is leaving with a TON of knowledge. In many cases, literally no one else at the company will have that knowledge. Startups need to do a better job of planning out transition periods (as best they can) and thinking critically about the info they need from the employee.
It blows my mind how much time and money startups waste by not learning from exiting employees. It's the same reason why you survey departing customers: to improve your business.
Prioritizing an employee’s transition process is a growth hack! Change my mind!!
3. Offer a recommendation on LinkedIn
The person leaving will be 1 of many, many more. It's always best to be the bigger person and try to help the departing employee with their career. What goes around comes around.
I’ve heard of companies holding an entire meeting dedicated to how they could help the departing employee - networking, other job opportunities, etc. Again, the viability of this all comes down to your company and team culture.
4. Try to make it a positive experience for the employee
A good, last couple weeks can help overshadow a bad job experience. Same as above, you can earn a lot of goodwill by not ignoring the transition.
5. Learn what they had in mind for the company
No matter who the employee was, they likely had some thoughts or ideas about the company, its strategies, products, whatever. After all, most employees have a very tangible impact on a startup’s success.
Whether in the exit interview or as one of the final internal meetings, learn what they wanted to do or try within their role. Could be a marketing campaign, product feature, partnership…anything really.
Don't say "Hey tell me all the things you wanted to do with us but can't now." Just ask them what are some projects they would have liked to work on, or even what they’ll be working on in their next role.
It could be a nonsense idea that will never work or it could be the start of something truly beneficial for your business. Ya won’t know if ya don’t ask!
6. Reflect on existing processes and systems
This is always a good time to review the ex-employee's job description. Does that role still make sense on the team? Were they doing more or less on the job description?
Also look at the team structure. Is this a good time to try out a new org team structure? Does this person's leaving highlight some gaps in our current systems? What was immediately on fire as soon they left?
I’m sure there’s dozens more I didn’t include. Got any tips of your own? Let me know!
Look - it’s tough for startups to handle offboarding. There’s already a million other things going on, now you have to remove someone from that equation. Plus, news can travel very fast. One person leaving easily sends ripples throughout the organization, generating turbulence for the plane you’re current building. Offboarding also isn’t something you really want to prioritize at a startup. It’s probably on the bottom of everyone’s list of things to build.
All that being said, how a company handles departing employees says a lot about their company culture, or, at the very least, the leaders within it. It’s not something that can be solved overnight and is actively nurtured as the company grows.
That’s all I got for this edition. Hope you enjoyed it! And I hope this didn’t unlock some hidden rage you had in a past job.
See you in 2 weeks.