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Exit Management: Dignity Costs Nothing

It’s common practice now to identify what ‘excellence’ looks like and to attempt to clone that. We are all advised to section off your best examples and concentrate on them. The wonderful quote from Marcus Buckingham that ‘if you study bad, the best you can hope to achieve is… not bad’.

However, The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni is a powerful book because it provides readers with an instant anchor to the more commonplace scenario that we face – where things aren’t working well. There is currency in being able to identify with people’s problems and it is a powerful tool to be able to utilise both extremes. Using stories or fables to illustrate a principle is always useful.

Take, for instance, this genuine exchange that I may have had with a line manager a few years ago

Manager: I’m really at the end of my tether with these two

Me: Me too, I’m bored of you talking to me about them to be honest, they just keep coming up. I’ll just ask someone from my team to pop down and dismiss them tomorrow

Manager: What? Slow down, I don’t want that to happen…

Me: Why not? You are always grumbling about them. I’m here to help.

Manager: They just have a couple of problems, I wouldn’t want to lose them. In fact I couldn’t cope with losing them both. With a bit more support and guidance they could both be ok in a few months.

Me: I’m just curious…whose job is providing that support and guidance?

Manager: I see what you did there [grins]

Me: I’ll see you in a couple of months… [walk off, grinning and a little bit smug]

There is power in using a worst case scenario to illustrate everything we know we wouldn’t want to happen.

So let me tell you about the worst handled exit I may have been present at. I say ‘may’, as this ‘may’ be fictional or embellished account designed to make a point – you’ll never know.

The story

The HR function was run by a really caring, effective and good HRD. We’ll call him Simon. Simon had been with this company for over 10 years and was universally respected and appreciated. One day the HR function were asked to file into the main office. Simon was standing just outside his office. The CEO was standing between everyone and Simon. We all knew this wasn’t normal. We all work in HR – we knew what was coming wouldn’t be good.

The first thing that was said was horrifically phrased ‘I don’t want anyone who is standing in front of me to be worried about their jobs’. It’s possibly the most poorly considered sentence I’ve heard in my career.

By the simplest process of elimination we knew what this meant for Simon, the only person standing behind the CEO. The rest of what was said was a mixture of platitudes and business guff about cost management and structure. We all knew what – and who – were losing.

I walked back to my desk. The person next to me had worked with Simon for 10 years.  We sat and aimlessly hit keys on our keyboards for a few minutes, pretending to work, whilst everyone else went off for coffee. Then this guy just stood up and strung together an incredibly varied and inventively combined string of expletives before walking out for a break. My normal instinct to justify the company’s approach didn’t come close to kicking in. There was no justification for the way it was done..

In the afternoon we all queued up to say our goodbyes. Simon spent time with each person telling them how much he valued them and why they shouldn’t worry about their roles. It was the very epitome of class. Every considerate thing he did showed the company’s actions up even further.

This may or may not be a fictional account. I may (or may not) have had a few drinks at the leaving party and asked the COO to point me in the direction of the CEO – so I could tell him exactly what I thought about the quality of exit management. I may have used the words ‘complete absence of class’. The COO may have explained that he could’t agree with me, but couldn’t wholly disagree – and brought me another drink. That may have been the classiest action associated with the whole affair.

The CEO may have completely failed to turn up to the leaving party – that may have been quite lucky in terms of my career. I’ll leave that to your imagination.

The way someone leaves matters, if you believe that people matter

Invest in giving them people dignity, at every possible opportunity that you can, because you are still there when they have gone – and that means your people get to look at you every single day and be disappointed.



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