Oh boy, the most tender of conversations. Tough conversations as a leader:

When an employee moves on from the company.

But it’s important, right? In a previous blog, I shared about “creating a safe place.”  The only way to do that is to make decisions that are thoughtful, born out of values and carry an appropriate level of transparency.  

When someone moves on from an organization, it’s primarily because of one of two events:

  1.  They decided to move on – another job, changing life circumstances, relocation, etc. 
  2. The company determines to transition them from the organization.

In the case of #2, it’s not uncommon for the team to be concerned and want more details to help reassure and re-establish their security in the wake of the departure.  It’s in these moments that we as leaders have a choice: 

The First Option: Share Everything. 

Context is invaluable and it eliminates the need for anyone to write their own stories around “what happened?”.  The belief that more information keeps gossip at bay comes at a price because the facts have a strong chance of dishonoring or disrespecting the people who are no longer with the organization.  That’s not good for anyone involved.  

The Second Option: Share Nothing.

Convey that “it’s none of your business what happened,” effectively asking that people disconnect their hearts and brains and simply “go back to work.” 

The third and I believe, Best Option is:

To communicate the principles and thought processes around these matters.  

So, here is the framework for decision making in this arena:

  • 90 Day Review
    So a new team member joins the team.  The interview went great. Traits testing for the role and organization is a thumb’s up.  Training commences and 6 weeks in, the manager or team recognizes that “Houston we have a problem.”  It’s at the 60 or 90-day point that a clear conversation is had. If everyone is aligned around the gap and it can be coached and closed in 30-45 days, super!  If not, it’s only kind to the team member and organization to either shift them to another role (when possible) OR set them free to move onto another career opportunity.
  • Character Issue
    This is when a team member operates in a way that’s incongruent to the company’s values.  In this case, it’s best to open the conversation. If the situation is isolated and the person acknowledges, takes responsibility and is committed to closing the gap, it’s possible to continue forward.  If the team member hides or doesn’t see an issue with the behavior/attitude and in turn, isn’t willing to take responsibility or close the gap, it’s time to bring closure to their time immediately. This is the only time that I’ve found it wise to move swiftly around this significant of a decision.  
  • Competency or Chemistry Issue
    So it’s a struggle and has been so for a while.  You tried to adjust their role and coach or challenge them in a given area whether it be skills, effort or relationships within the team.  This is where it’s important to be kind and yet direct in sharing expectations. Beating around the bush isn’t kind. Conversation 1….2…..3…..and there comes a point when it’s respectful and important to convey, “if we’re unable to make improvements in this area, it will merit closing the door on your time here.”  Woah, those are some serious words. That’s right! And they need to be. There are times when the messages up to this one weren’t taken at full weight. But now it’s in the open. This is a fork in the road, and it’s only after this point when the conversations have been had, the stakes have been laid and the opportunity to close the gap has been given, that it’s wise, thoughtful and even kind to transition someone from the team on the basis of competency or working well within the team. 
  • The last is the most underutilized and unique
    So there’s a gap and things aren’t going well.  The key step is to communicate it. Be honest and kind. In some percentage of these conversations, the team member will see it and understand it.  After recognizing the issue and discussing it a number of times, the team member will recognize that it’s a gap they won’t be able to close. They pursue another job and bingo, it was a great outcome for everyone involved.  This is only going to work in a situation where there is vulnerability-based trust and mutual respect – and it can be a dignifying way to help a team member move to a role/company that’s better suited for them AND set the company up to select the next person who is more suited for the role. 

Phew, this is a tough one to address.  There are so many misconceptions and fears around this conversation.  It’s as “real” and “high stakes” as it gets in the leadership and organizational space

I hope this framework is helpful in navigating tough conversations as a leader with your team members and adopting a framework for decision making in this area.  It’s not only helpful in making decisions but also in honoring the team as they carry out their work and respond to a team member’s departure.

Josh Block

Author Josh Block

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