It’s amazing to think that just two generations ago, people expected to spend their lives working for one company, moving up the ranks until they reached the pinnacle, received a “thanks for putting in 50 years” wristwatch and retired. Now, it’s rare for people to spend more than five years at a company; some count themselves lucky if a job lasts more than 18 months.
As a manager that means constant churn. Even in a company like ours, where we have several decade-long workers, there are plenty of fresh-out-of-college hires who never make it to the five-year mark.
The challenge, I’ve found, isn’t firing people — by the time someone has to be let go, they’ve been given enough (documented) chances to change — it’s managing people who have given notice and already have one foot out the door. After all, you can’t fire someone after they’ve given notice or you’d have to pay severance and unemployment.
So how do you create an environment where people are still productive, even though their stay will be brief?
Step one: Realize it’s not about you
First of all, avoid taking anything personally. People resign for a variety of reasons. It’s never really about you. Sometimes people are given an opportunity you can’t match; others may just need a life change. Let them go with your blessing. The party will go on just fine without them.
Step two: Understand that you’re being given a gift
Everyone is resistant to change in some way. At regular intervals, it’s necessary to re-evaluate the jobs people are doing and whether your office is set up to meet current market challenges. That seldom occurs when every desk is occupied. When someone leaves, however, it forces you to get over the inertia that’s set in.
Step three: Know that anyone can be replaced
No one likes to think that, but it’s true. And sometimes, it’s the pivotal people holding everyone else back — it’s just impossible to see that until they leave.
For example, “irreplaceable” people who do everything often are control freaks with trust issues. When they go, it creates the opportunity for others to shine and real teams to form as the work becomes more evenly distributed. Sometimes, positions are created for darlings of the office after they’ve outgrown entry-level work. Because they’re well-loved, it’s often not obvious how unqualified they were until they walk.
Step four: Create an exit strategy with expectations
Help the person leaving let go. Give them responsibilities and deadlines. Work with them to develop a plan for how they will document their responsibilities, turn over projects already in progress and train their replacement (unless it’d be better for the company to have someone else to do the training).
And hold them accountable. If they’re not performing well, don’t let them just limp out their remaining time. Talk with them and figure out a solution for whatever is causing their poor performance. It’s not a waste of time. The true waste would be letting a valuable employee ruin their reputation by leaving a bad last impression.
Have other challenges? Ask your questions below or tweet them to me @PYMLive.
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