Treat Departing Employees like Future Employees

"When someone leaves my startup, what's the best way to treat them? I'm always disappointed and a little anxious about losing someone, but at the same time, I want to make sure I do my best to preserve the relationship. What's the best way to approach this?"

April 29th, 2020   |    By: Wil Schroter

Last week I had a great conversation with a Startups.com employee who was leaving to join another company. During the conversation I repeated the same thing I've told hundreds of departed employees, "This isn't the last time we'll work together, so while I'm sad to see you leave, I'm pumped to team up again later."

Why would we tell someone that's leaving how excited we are to be working together in the future? Because if we've been in this game long enough, we realize how many of those relationships do in fact come around again... and again... and again.

As Founders, especially veteran ones, we begin to learn that every single person we work with is part of a larger "workforce" of future hires that becomes some of our most reliable talent.

How we leave is how we're remembered

The end of every relationship is often the most memorable part of the highlight reel — especially if it ends poorly. We may remember all the ups and downs of our journey with someone else, but we sure as hell remember if things went off the rails in the end. A bad breakup can zero out years of good will in a relationship.

Not a lot of startup Founders consider this. They often think that the parting words are no more than a friendly handshake or in some cases a "good riddance" sendoff. Both are total fails. Wrapping a relationship with thoughtfulness and a view of the future can fundamentally change the future trajectory and value of that relationship.

Pay it forward

Most of the time when folks are leaving I offer to help them with their career in some way, either by opening up my Rolodex (wow, that's a dated term), or by offering to provide some counsel along the way. It's important to pay it forward, even if it's not necessarily in our best interests now (it rarely is) because it sets the right tone for the relationship.

If we wrap the relationship with a "good luck, see you never!" type of attitude, we break the continuity of the relationship we worked so hard to build. Instead, our focus should be around "how do I keep this going?"

What goes around, comes around

Building a startup and recruiting go hand in hand. If every single time we need to find someone else we have to go back to the well, it's a long, hard road, especially when we restart and are looking for co-founders or early employees.

That's why building a solid list of past relationships is so important. Those same folks now have trust, working history, and a new appreciation for what may have worked so well in the past. There's nothing more valuable than being able to bring back a trusted partner who can just take the ball and run, no questions asked.

It doesn't end there. Those same people become partners of other companies down the road or referrals for future hires. Treating them well isn't only the right thing to do, it makes a ton of business sense.

In Case You Missed It

Why We Embrace Employee Turnover This week we had one of our best team members leave to join another startup. We couldn't be happier that he's gone.

What’s the Cost of a Toxic Employee (podcast) Nearly every startup deals with a "toxic employee." And every minute we wait to address the issue, we create an even bigger organizational challenge that will be way too hard to tackle down the road.

Can I Go Back to Having a Boss? After being a Founder, the thought of becoming the employee once again may feel like a monumental step backward. But being an employee again does have its advantages.

About the Author

Wil Schroter

Wil Schroter is the Founder + CEO @ Startups.com, a startup platform that includes BizplanClarity, Fundable, Launchrock, and Zirtual. He started his first company at age 19 which grew to over $700 million in billings within 5 years (despite his involvement). After that he launched 8 more companies, the last 3 venture backed, to refine his learning of what not to do. He's a seasoned expert at starting companies and a total amateur at everything else.

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