This week, my sales manager, who has been with Metal Mafia practically since we opened, will be leaving after seven years. Her decision to leave was absolutely the last thing I hoped to hear, but it was both the right choice and an understandable one for her to make. She wanted to learn a new industry, to find a different way to challenge herself.
Thankfully, our company culture made it easy for her to come to me and tell me that she needed to leave--in a way that would be good for her and the company. As an ode to her--thank you for seven outstanding years, Emily!--I'd like to tell you how to create a clear exit path for those who wish to leave your company, and why doing so is so important.
1. Be transparent that you do not expect your employees to stay forever.
It may seem like staffing suicide, but being open about the fact that employees may eventually choose a different career path conveys that you are realistic and allows them to be as well. Both of these elements are the foundation for an honest working relationship. Knowing that they are not bound to your company gives employees the freedom to choose to stay. I much prefer that everyone at Metal Mafia work there because they want to, rather than because they feel they are obligated to. I've had times when a once-solid employee started to merely go through the motions. When it happened, I approached the employee in question and solicited an honest conversation about her happiness and where she was headed. In one case, I was able to modify an employee's job description to help reignite her excitement about her job. On another, it was clear the employee needed to move on to something different. In both instances, the employee benefited--and so did my company.
2. Let it be known that departures don't make you angry.
When an employee decides to leave Metal Mafia, and does so by opening a dialogue with me to let me know she wants to leave, I do everything possible to help the process. During business hours, I expect her attention to remain on her current job, but at lunch, she can search openly for new positions, send off résumés, and even schedule interviews during office hours--as long as she makes up missed time. Being flexible in this way allows me to keep a departing employee focused on helping our customers when she is in the office, and gives the employee the opportunity to find a new job that truly suits her. It also enables me to interview and find a replacement--which can rarely be done in the requisite two-weeks-notice period. The result is a smoother transition for both parties, and the guarantee that the employee's last days with the company are not sour ones. This helps maintain company momentum and morale.
3. Celebrate a new beginning.
Be open with the rest of your staff during one employee's exit process. Letting team members see that you are OK with an employee departure reassures them that they are part of a company that treats people fairly. This helps them feel they are making the right choice to stay with you. It also allows them to openly discuss any concerns about the change and to participate in the transition, and eliminates the need employees can sometimes feel to choose sides. When a member of my team chooses to leave, we ask her to decide with us the best way to let staff and customers know. Doing so allows everyone involved to understand, accept, and support the change--and gives the departing employee the ability to structure her exit in a way that builds upon, rather than negates, her contributions to the company. When the separation moment finally arrives, we throw a good-luck party to celebrate the new beginning. This allows both the employee and the company to move forward openly and with excitement. It's also fun.