Conscious Uncoupling: Upholding the Same Values During Onboarding and Off-Boarding

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By David Hennessy, Partner
September 28, 2022
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“I think oftentimes organizations think that: ‘the business is in such trouble I have to do whatever it takes. So, I'm going to compromise on my values.’ … And I don't believe that. I believe that when an organization is in trouble is when you need to stay values-based the very most.” – Helen Drinan, Former President of Simmons College

Let’s start with a fictional scenario that we can probably all relate to in some way or another: 

Katrina has just been informed that the company she works for is doing a reduction in force (RIF) and her position is one that is being impacted. As such, her employment will be terminated in two weeks. Almost immediately, her boss and teammates seem to avoid talking to her for the remainder of her time with the company. It is almost as if she is already gone – she is immediately treated as a castoff or a traitor. 

Has this – or something similar – ever happened to you or someone you work with or know? Although this certainly is not the case in every company all the time, it does happen far more often than it should. So, why do some organizations and/or leaders treat their employees in this way as they end their time together? The most probable answer is that, sometimes organizations forget their core values during difficult times such as off-boarding.

Staying True to Organizational Core Values During the Off-Boarding Process 

Growing the team is an exciting time for an organization. Whether it is a new role or you’re backfilling a position that has existed for years, adding a new person to your team presents significant opportunity to bring fresh perspective, new ideas, and valuable experience and expertise that you may not have previously considered. 

Onboarding and training a new employee is also costly in terms of both time and money, making it critical that the process be approached with a thought-through strategy and plan. However, a vast majority of companies not only do it, but have clear onboarding strategies and processes in place, and commit a significant amount of resources to these efforts. This is because the value and ROI of a good onboarding is widely known and accepted. 

But, what about off-boarding a team member? 

The same values organizations bring to the onboarding process should be applied to the off-boarding process (often called separation events). As done in effective onboarding, organizations should be continuing to communicate, foster good relationships, and prepare departing colleagues for the challenges that lie ahead of them even though their immediate future is not in the organization.

Aside from staying consistent with your organization’s core values, there are many other reasons to off-board employees in thoughtful and compassionate ways. Some of these include: 

  1. Remaining employees see how their colleagues are treated, which impacts their view – positively or negatively – on the organization as a whole
  2. Departing employees speak to others about their previous employer – how you handle the off-boarding process will shape whether these conversations are framed in a positive or negative light
  3. They are more likely to want to re-join your organization the future
  4. They are more likely to refer other candidates for future positions
  5. They are more likely to be a customer/client/partner of your organization

How to Elevate Your Company’s Brand with Effective Off-Boarding

When a former employee goes on to achieve great success in other companies, it elevates the brands of their previous employers, helping these organizations become seen as a place where great talent comes from, a top talent producer, and a great place “to be from.” This is a key component many companies overlook. 

Furthermore, all five of the items listed above as reasons to off-board employees thoughtfully and compassionately also impact an organization’s brand. At the end of the day, everything you do during the off-boarding process will have an impact on your brand, be it a positive or negative one. Overcoming a poor brand image is an extremely challenging task. Don’t you want to make sure you are shaping the narrative in a positive way? 

At Keystone Partners – as we work with all types of organizations on career transitions, we see that organizations that handle career transitions well will become known as great talent “hubs.” This helps them attract future talent because the organization develops a reputation as a great place to work and develop one’s career. We see many individuals from these companies go back to that same employer who, for some reason, had to let them go, in the future. And even in difficult times, in a world where finding good talent is so hard and, at times, seemingly impossible, isn’t that something to strive for?

How to Attract Top Talent to Your Organization 

The phrase “talent acquisition” is widely used across the HR industry. Although it is clear what is being referred to, the most progressive organizations recognize that they do not ever actually “own” the talents of their people. Rather, they are simply on loan during their tenure with the company.

Organizations that understand this engage their talent more effectively before, during, and after their time with the company. These organizations tend to have the best and most thorough off-boarding processes, because they are genuinely happy for their employees when they leave, and they truly care about their experience not only while working there, but also when transitioning out of the company. 

Another outcome of effective off-boarding is the fact that, when done well, off-boarding can actually help your organization attract top talent. Word travels fast about companies that value and take care of their people. As a result, more people want to work for these organizations. Furthermore, the people leaving are more likely to at least consider coming back and joining your organization in the future when they feel that you valued their previous time with your company and were genuinely happy for them when they left to pursue another opportunity. 

How can you accomplish this? Acknowledging that you do not, in fact, “own” the talents of your people is a great place to start! 

How to Keep the Relationship Going After They’ve Left Your Organization

For those of you still wondering why this really matters, let’s put it in perspective a little bit – would you kick your son or daughter out of your family just because they got married and started another family? No. So, why would you do that to your employees?

Although the idea of investing in your people, even on their way out the door, is not a new concept, the idea of continuing to treat them as part of your organization’s “family” certainly is. Although it is not a notion that is widely accepted yet, there are some organizations that have figured it out. How are they doing it, you may be wondering? Here are just a few ways:

  • Developing robust alumni groups for former employees where they can meet, collaborate, and network
  • Conducting “transition discussions” – rather than the traditional exit interview – in which the employer asks: ‘How has working here elevated your career/skills/goals?’
  • Acknowledging that you don’t “own” the talent on your team and expressing gratitude that the employee shared their talent(s) with you for whatever period of time
    • This will increase the likelihood of them considering rejoining the organization in the future

This approach adds to organizations’ brand as a great place to work as well as a top talent developer, both of which, in turn, make it a more attractive company for all talent.

Keystone Partners has been helping organizations successfully navigate the off-boarding process for the last 40 years. Our career consultants have the experience and expertise to ensure your team is taken care of and your organization remains highly regarded. Contact us today to learn how we can help safeguard your brand as well as your employees’ futures during the off-boarding process. 

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