How you treat someone when they voluntarily leave your team or company speaks volumes. Unfortunately, it’s an all too common experience for someone to quietly exit and for the other team members to awkwardly learn the news through side conversations. Here are 3 things that you can do to strengthen the team and company culture when someone leaves.
First, a word about terminology. I’ll refer to the person leaving as a “team member”. This person could be a direct report of yours, or they could be part of a team you lead and a direct report to someone else. It doesn’t matter. As a leader, it’s your job to create an awesome team and company culture.
1. Be Proud
Whether someone was a part of your team for 4 days, 4 months or 4 years, there is certainly a positive contribution that they’ve made in that time. Remember: as a leader, everyday that someone is part of your team is a day that you implicitly or explicitly decide that they add more value than if they weren’t a member. Celebrate their accomplishments. Be proud of their contributions. Speak openly about their successes with the team and at the company.
Don’t be negative — even after they leave. Remember, through your leadership, this person continued to be part of the team. Speaking negatively of them after they’re gone is weak leadership. If you had concerns, you should have had candid conversations about their performance while they were with the team.
2. Be Loud
Being positive and thanking the team member directly is a great start, but it misses the bigger opportunity to create a culture of celebrating accomplishments. You should already be celebrating wins regularly, but a team member leaving is a significant milestone that shouldn’t be missed. Be loud. Mention the departure with pride at team meetings, all-hands meetings, company meetings, in the and in Slack channel.
3. Be Supportive
Wish the person all the best in their future endeavours. If it makes sense to do so, offer to be a reference for them in the future. Again, through your leadership they remained a member of the team. You should be attracting and retaining talented team members to build strong teams that do amazing work. By authentically supporting team members when they leave the team, you’re demonstrating that your care and support isn’t limited to their performance while they’re on the team or at the company. Your care should extend to their career and overall happiness in life.
A Harvard Business Review article titled “When Employees Are Using Software That IT Hasn’t Approved” caught my attention. It includes an eye-opening story:
Digital transformation that starts in the CEO office often turns into a mega project that everyone has to be a part of. The trouble with this is that mega projects take a long time to deliver, and by the time they do deliver, what they provide may well be obsolete. Meanwhile, out on the front lines, real managers need something they can use today in order to defend the business.
A recent drama at a major retailer illustrates this dilemma: A few months earlier, the VP for a declining line of business found herself struggling to find digital tools to help her acquire new customers. In desperation, she used her personal credit card to pay for a monthly subscription to a cloud-based CRM that could help her start an online campaign.
Soon enough the CIO sniffed out the project and called her in to a disciplinary council. After listening to the stern CIO chiding the VP about the security breaches her initiative had risked, the CEO asked the VP why she hadn’t simply asked the CIO for help. The VP replied, “I asked our CIO for help months ago.”
The CIO admitted that he had been approached and explained that he had informed the VP that IT already had a project with SAP to deliver what the VP needed. “Yes, but that won’t be ready for me to use for three years, and I need something today,” retorted the VP. The CIO was silent.
This story is intended to illustrate why employees are using software that IT hasn’t approved, but there a few other things unpack here. First, mega projects that take a long time to deliver (3 years!) are a bad idea. Second, far too many companies default to buying products and services from companies like SAP when building a custom digital platform with an in-house team is often in their best interest.
Let’s start with the fact that many companies are still building mega projects. Having worked at a big company with thousands of employees and several hundred million dollars in revenue, I understand that a big ship can take time to turn. It turns one degree at a time, not 180 degrees instantly. Yet that’s exactly what mega projects attempt to do. Expecting a big ship to turn instantly after multiple years of preparation is not realistic. It’s no wonder that so many large software projects fail.
In a recent survey of 10,000 software projects completed between 2011 and 2015, only 3-18% of large projects completed successfully. In comparison, small projects completed successfully 44-58% of the time. Given those odds, companies should be rolling out new features weekly or monthly to incrementally deliver value to the business rather than trying to deliver it all the value at once after 3 years.
If the goal is to move quickly and deliver working software in small increments frequently, then cross-functional teams of software developers and business leaders need to work together in-house. Technology isn’t going away. If anything, the pace of innovation is only increasing. So why outsource what should be a core competency? Businesses should invest in building high-performance technology delivery teams that can continue innovating with business leaders for years into the future.
The flaw in the story from the HBR article isn’t that the VP is trying to do the right thing for the business by using software that IT hasn’t approved. The flaw is that the CIO in the story isn’t focused on engaging with business leaders to work hand-in-hand with in-house technology teams to deliver business value early and often.
Two years ago, I got a call from the Director of Talent Acquisition. “Jeremy”, he said, “we’ve got a problem… the applicant tracking system we are using has gone out of business.” This was a big deal. Over the previous few years, the company had grown its revenue by up to 40% each year. Revenue was then several hundred million dollars per year. Any interruption to the company’s ability to track thousands of candidates and hire hundreds of great people each year would significantly impact the company’s financial goals.
As VP of Software Engineering, I led several agile teams that were building a custom digital platform for the business. One of those teams was working with the Talent Acquisition group to integrate a third-party Applicant Tracking System (ATS) and planning to build a custom ATS on our digital platform in the future. Those plans were about to become the company’s highest priority.
Leveraging third parties is a great way for companies to move quickly and grow. However, as that growth continues, third-party platforms can quickly become a liability. There is always the risk that third parties will pivot and go in another direction, lack the resources to keep pace with your company’s growth, or go out of business. Simply put: third parties aren’t always aligned with your company’s best interests.
Today, software developers have an embarrassment of riches. There are great technologies available to build a digital platform more quickly and cheaply than ever before. When you add up the costs of monthly subscriptions per user, the costs of working with outsourced development teams, and the costs of integrating multiple systems, the total quickly exceeds the cost of operating a dedicated in-house technology team.
It’s not just about controlling risk and cost. It’s also about speed and out-innovating your competition. Companies that build and maintain their own custom digital platforms will be able to move faster and out-innovate companies that build on third-party platforms. It’s better to customize the digital platform to the business rather than adapt the business to the digital platform. As the pace of innovation continues to accelerate, having complete control over a custom digital platform and being able to turn on a dime is a huge advantage.
So what happened to the Talent Acquisition department? I’m happy to say that the new ATS, built on a custom digital platform, launched just in time and the company’s financial targets weren’t impacted. At first, the ATS was a bare-bones application that handled only the most critical tasks. Today, it’s in its second iteration and is feature-rich.
The new ATS tracks candidates, schedules interviews, collects notes, and sends confirmation emails. Candidate information is no longer stranded on a third-party island. The ATS is integrated with other parts of the business, like the Legal and Human Resources departments. The agile team of software developers in collaboration with business stakeholders has done an amazing job. New hires are joining the company in greater numbers and more smoothly than ever before.
For more articles, check out the archives.