Thursday, June 26, 2008

How to Part Company with a Smile

By Wil Schroter - Founder and CEO of the Go BIG Network

No matter how well your startup company does, sooner or later you're going to be faced with the fact that someone has to go. It may be a disgruntled co-founder or it may be the intern that looked great on paper but turned into a disaster when they walked into the office.

While parting company is a tough thing to do, there are definitely better and worse ways to go about it. There's an art to ending a corporate romance on a positive note, and it starts with looking past the moment of departure and into the future.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Unlike the big corporate machine where everyone is expected to fit in, a startup company is a perpetually chaotic, anxiety-inducing rollercoaster of emotion that fits very few people real well. Chances are the person you are sitting across from is just not a fit for any startup company, let alone yours.

A great way to set the stage is to explain how well you understand the incredible challenges of being in a startup company and that it’s very difficult for anyone to maintain their footing in this environment. This isn’t about you patronizing your co-workers – it’s about recognizing the fact that there are often very good reasons the fit just isn’t right and using those reasons as a platform for departure.

In many cases the person you’re sitting across from has had to endure a lot of sacrifices just to be able to contribute at all. Even if they didn’t work out as an employee, it’s a good idea to recognize and appreciate the sacrifices they have made up until this point. Those sacrifices were part of their contribution.

Leave the Door Open

Although today you may feel like you can’t possibly get this person out of the door fast enough, always be sure to leave that door open for them to return. This may sound ridiculous, since the last thing on your mind right now is ever seeing this person in your office again.

Yet your corporate life is very long, and it extends down many roads. The gal that just walked out of your office today may be the key customer that hires you a few years from now. It may be the person that was a bad fit in the formative stages of your company but is exactly who you need three years from now. It never pays to be short-sighted when winding up any relationship, no matter how tenuous at the time.

Leaving the door open also shows a gesture of good faith. If people know that they might have to deal with each other again in the future they’re a lot less likely to spew fire and brimstone today. You may find that a few years from now, after you’ve both forgotten a about what brought you to this departure, that there’s a much better opportunity to re-connect.

Send People off with Dignity

There’s a big difference between just terminating someone and terminating someone with dignity. No matter what the situation is, everyone deserves to be shown the door without being crucified in front of their peers.

Aside from the fundamental respect of another human being, you’re also setting an example for how you will treat the rest of the organization. If all of your employees watch a person get humiliated in front of their peers the first thing that you’ve instilled in everyone else is that they will be treated the same way. That kind of fear is incredibly unhealthy in any organization. (Unless you are a pirate, in which case you’ll probably be just fine.)

Instead, go out of your way to make sure that this person’s departure ends on a positive and supportive note. Even if the rest of the organization dreaded their existence, it’s important for you to be the bigger person and show that everyone will come and go with dignity at your company.

Think About the Ripple Effect

A departure affects more than just one employee. It creates a ripple effect through the entire organization that’s impossible to ignore. If you think that an employee walking out the door takes their drama with them, you’re dead wrong.

The gory details of what you’ve said, how the employee responded, and every moment thereafter will be repeated in infinite detail inside and outside of your organization. Think of the termination event like a video clip on YouTube that is about to get re-broadcast endlessly.

A simple, positive parting isn’t worth gossiping about. There’s no story. But an ugly and bitter battle is something that will keep lots of people talking for a long time, all at your expense. When it comes to parting, creating as little drama as possible is absolutely critical.

Look at the Big Picture

Every time you let someone go you’re changing the face of the company and setting the tone by which it treats its people. If you can use this opportunity to show that you’re supportive and respectful of the people leaving your company, you’ll make both the people that work there now and the people that will work for you in the future far more comfortable with living in your world.

Wil Schroter is the Founder and CEO of the Go BIG Network, the largest network of startup companies and entrepreneurs at . He is also the author of the new book “Go BIG or Go HOME”.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post. This is exactly what I feel in the startup I am in. Somehow, I do not see the founders feeling the same. For example, a good friend and a person who joined us in the starting phase of the company, was forced to leave after company got its first deal. The self proclaimed Business head, just shouted at the poor guy, saying "we are paying you such a good salary which you wont get anywhere. No one will pay you so much". This too when we were trying to negotiate to stop that guy from leaving.
Now why in the world this guy would stick with us, he smartly thanked, and responded, that you are mistaken, I am working with you much lesser then my earlier salary, and definitely its no where what am worth of. And, talk about stocks, after I knew how much was the outstanding shares with the company I got no trust on what you are saying now. But thanks. "

Good decision, the same guy started working on his own, and in a month he is now earning double of what the Business director proclaimed noone will pay him.

I know the business head must be feeling like a god all by himself, after the effort of whole team got the first sale done, and he was upto just grabbing the credit for it, which was for the team anyways

June 27, 2008 at 3:46 AM  

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