I never hire anyone less than exceptional. In 2012, we chose Jerry Gratton as our new People & Culture leader -- on the spot, over the phone. Why was I so sure he was the right person for the job? Because Jerry helped build our quirky culture in the first place!
Jerry is what the corporate world calls a 'boomerang' employee: someone who leaves a company to work somewhere else, but ends up going back. Some people refuse to bring back former employees, but for us it was a no-brainer: any organization would be lucky to have Jerry (we've just been lucky enough to have him twice). There was a time when it was frowned upon for people to change jobs but letting a former employee return was unheard of. Today, employees and employer alike are embracing this rising trend.
Hiring boomerangs can have huge benefits for everyone: they already understand how your company operates, and if they've done the work will likely return as a new-and-improved version of themselves.
We Say You Can Go Home
The door is always open at our company for stand-out employees to return at any point in their careers (provided there's a role available). Good people are good people; just because they leave doesn't make them any less so.
Jerry left in the wake of the recession when our company was struggling to get back on its feet. He began to weigh his options and found an opportunity that was better for him at the time. I was happy for him, but I won't lie: without him, our future looked murky.
If you love something you have to let it go; when Jerry left, I told him he always had a place here and all he had to do was call. Over the years, we've said the same to dozens of employees -- some of whom have returned and others who haven't. Leaving the door open is a way to show people that we value their contributions, and that they'll always be a part of our family even if they move on.
Our Very Own Comeback Kid
For most people, quitting a job is the closing of a door they don't intend to reopen. But the grass isn't always greener, and people often regret the decision. Unfortunately, going back is viewed in a negative light because no one wants to admit defeat. But unless you quit Jerry Maguire-style, there's no reason you can't come back stronger.
Many of today's most well-known innovators came full circle: Steve Jobs left Apple only to return 12 years later. Same goes for Howard Schultz, Jack Dorsey and Steve Huffman.
Your old company might be more eager to have you back than you think. Jerry and I stayed in touch after he left, and I kept waiting for him to say the magic words. When a few years passed, I decided to ask: "Are you ready to come home yet?"
Fortunately, he'd been hoping for my call just as anxiously as I'd been awaiting his. "I thought you'd never ask!" he said, and he rejoined our company within a month. He still refers to his return to O2E Brands as his "homecoming".
Some Stories Don't Need a Sequel
The tricky part is that the boomerang system doesn't work for everyone or in every situation. We don't invite every departing employee to come back (due to culture fit or poor performance, for example), and not everyone wants to anyway. Sometimes, it's about having the sense to realize that if it doesn't work now, then it probably never will.
In other cases, people come back only to realize that our company isn't the same as they remember. We've evolved and grown up -- just as the employee has, too. When so much time has passed, we can't always get realigned.
Our boomerangs bounce back better than ever, and bring fresh eyes and new ideas to our organization. More companies are realizing that hiring boomerangs is common sense: it's not about a willingness to bring valuable people back -- it's about being the kind of company people want to come back to.