Momentum Podcast: 227
Allow For Graceful Exits
by Alex Charfen
How should you handle a situation where someone needs to leave your team? The way you behave in these situations can be damaging if you don’t do it right.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creaters of all kinds, those among us who can't turn it off and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure, we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, then rewrite them around our own will. We don't accept our destiny. We define it. We don't understand defeat because you only lose if you stop, and we don't know how. While the rest of the world strives for average and clings desperately to the status quo, we are the minority, the few who are willing to hallucinate there could be a better future. Instead of just daydreaming of what could be, we endure the vulnerability and exposure it takes to make it real. We are the evolutionary hunters, clearly the most important people in the world because entrepreneurs are the only source of consistent positive human evolution, and we always will be.
Allow for graceful exits. I had a crazy experience today that inspired this podcast when I went to look at some standing desks with [Leanne 00:01:20] earlier. I'll share it with you in a minute, but first I want to share what this podcast is about. Allow for graceful exits. What I want to talk about today is something that we don't really want to think about when we go out to build a team. When we have to either let someone go or when someone chooses to leave our team, how should we handle it? I want to acknowledge, I want to actually let you know that I understand this is one of the most difficult things that happens for entrepreneurs. When we hire someone, here's what happens. It's like when a relationship starts. We hire someone. We create this future in our minds that, "Here's what they're going to do for us, and here's how much easier it's going to be. Here's how it's going to feel," especially when you're just starting out hiring those first few people.
You have this entirely new outcome you've created in your mind around what hiring this person is going to feel like, be like, what it's going to create in your business. Then you bring them on. If there's a challenge, and let's just assume that you gave them clear outcomes, you coached success along the way, they had a scoreboard to let them know whether they were being successful, and still maybe you had the wrong person or there was an issue that has someone needing to leave. Here's what happens. That future we've imagined, that outcome we really wanted now is wiped off the face of the earth. We're either letting them go, or they're leaving. That is a huge challenge for entrepreneurs like us. We do not like to have our futures messed with.
Here's what happens oftentimes in entrepreneurial business. When somebody leaves, whether they leave on their own accord or they get fired, oftentimes they're not treated gracefully. I want you to know that this took me a while to learn. I know this intimately, and I understand this problem intimately because when I was in my 20s and I employed people, I didn't understand how to allow for graceful exits. If somebody came to me and told me they were quitting, I would get angry. I would get frustrated with them. It was causing me problems, so my face would look frustrated. I would be frustrated. Oftentimes people would say, "Hey, I'm leaving. I'll give you as much time as you need," and I'd get mad and say, "Leave right now." It was a horrible situation. When I would terminate people for non-performance when I was younger, I would talk about them behind their backs after they left. I would say things. I would actually say to other team members, "Don't do that like so and so, who I fired."
As I'm telling you this right now, I want you to know my entire body is uncomfortable. I'm having a reaction to the entrepreneur I used to be because today I understand how incredibly damaging it is how I behaved because here's what we need to understand as entrepreneurs because we often look at the world from our point of view. Let's look at the world from that other person's point of view. Changing your job is one of the most dramatic decisions that a person makes in their lives. It's one of the most important decisions they make in their lives. The decision to come to work with you or the decision to stop working with you is massive on the other side. I can tell you it probably wasn't made flippantly. There was probably a lot of thought and a lot of effort that went into it.
When someone makes the decision that they're going to leave, in the case that someone's leaving, you have to allow for graceful exits because here's what so many entrepreneurs do is they get angry the person is leaving. They're frustrated with them. If somebody says, "Hey, I'll give you two weeks," they say, "Leave today, and I'm not going to pay you." Believe me, I've done it all. Here's what happens. Everyone else on the team sees your behavior, and they think, "Well, geez, I thought this was a pretty good place to work, but look at how that person is being treated. I wonder what would happen to me if I got an opportunity." Then if they do ever get an opportunity, you're not getting two weeks. They're just letting you know one day that they're leaving.
Then I hear these stories from entrepreneurs who tell me that they have people who've worked with them for years, and they just walk off the job one day and go work somewhere else. It takes me about 5 or 10 minutes to ask a few questions about their behaviors, and I can identify they are the reason that person left the job, walked off, and didn't give them two weeks, because throughout the company's history when someone was exiting, the entrepreneur behaved like I did. I want you to think about have you behaved like that? When someone's come to give you two weeks, have you congratulated them on their new opportunity, or have you gotten frustrated with them? I'll tell you, when I have that meeting with somebody, first if it's someone that I want to keep, then I always have a discussion to see if that's even an option. Sometimes it is, sometimes it's not. If it's not an option, then I have a discussion about their new opportunity, and I see if I can find out why they took it and where we were missing without really having to do an exit interview. Then I congratulate them on the opportunity, and I let them know that I'm happy for them.
I'll share with you what happened today. I walked into Xdesk, which is up north from where I live here in Austin, an incredible standing desk manufacturer. I've been using a standing desk since I was in my teens. I used to use warehouse racks, and filing cabinets, and doors and stuff to make desks that I could stand up at because I hated sitting so much in school. I went up to Xdesk, and walked in, and shook the general manager's hand or the director's hand. His name is Chad Miner. He used to work with me. He actually turned around and he said, "Oh, yeah, I used to work for you." I shook his hand and I'm like, "Holy cow," and it clicked. He was hired as a project manager, I remember, and he was incredible. He worked for Mark Swearingen, who was my COO. He was with us, I think, three or four months, but he was really good, and he was delivering like crazy. Then he started to have some challenges. I think he was out a couple of days. I can't really remember. Then there was a medical issue or something else that he had to leave the job.
It clicked today. I remember pulling him into my office and having a conversation with him. I think I gave him a couple of books that I thought might be able to help him and thanked him for working with me. He had been there for about four months. He gave his two weeks. He finished it out. He did everything he could to help us. He actually brought that up today, that I had given him the books, and I'd spent some time with him, and that it really meant something to him. It's interesting that you can be in a situation where I never thought I would see somebody that I knew today going up north to go buy a desk. The person who's the GM of the company that I know I'm going to get a desk from is someone who used to work with me. Can you imagine if I had gotten angry with him for leaving, or if I had not paid him the full two weeks, or if I'd done any of those things, what today would've been like? How uncomfortable would it have been today?
Here's the other place where you have to allow for graceful exits. It's not just when someone leaves. When you're firing someone, no matter what, no matter what they did, I just want to put that out there, I want to start with it doesn't matter what they did because whenever I've talked to an entrepreneur that has terminated someone and then acted in a way that wasn't appropriate with their team, they always want to tell me, "Hey, but wait, here's what the person did." I want to put it out there first, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. When you are terminating someone, you are making for them one of the biggest decisions in their life. It's one of the most foundational decisions in a person's life is where to work. It's one of the most stressful. It's one of the most stress-provoking. In fact, on the RACE scale, which is a scale in psychology that assigns a point value to anything that happens in your life and how much stress it causes you, one of the highest is a change in jobs or careers.
Whether someone's coming to you to quit or someone's getting terminated, they are going through one of the most stressful events in their life. You know that going in. It might be hard for you to terminate someone. It might be hard for you to be losing a team member, but it is not one of the most stressful events in your life. It might be causing you some stress, but for them, this is top five in their life. When you terminate someone, you have the responsible to be transparency with your team and let them know what happened so that they know why someone's leaving the team. Otherwise, they'll panic. Then have one conversation with the team. Explain transparently what happened. Make sure you don't violate anything that you're not supposed to share. Any type of HIPAA violation or anything like that can get you in trouble, but you have every right to tell your team why you're terminating someone.
"This person had a hard time showing up at work on time. We gave them their warnings. We told them what happened," or, "We had a salesperson that wasn't hitting their numbers. We had multiple conversations with them, and we just realized it wasn't the right position for them," whatever that conversation is. Then the way that I have the conversation with my team is I say, "Okay, and if any of you have any questions about what's happened, please, let's talk about it now. I want this to be a transparent conversation. But when we conclude this conversation, we're going to honor the absent, and we're not going to talk about this person again. They don't work here anymore. They're not going to become a topic of gossip or a topic of conversation. Let's answer any questions that need to be answered now, and then let's move on from this." That is the exact discussion I have with my team.
It's never an easy thing to do to terminate someone. It's never easy to deal with somebody quitting. But as the CEO of your organization, everything you say is heard through a megaphone and seen through a microscope. When either of these things happen, your team is watching you to see how you will react. I think that that is completely and totally lost on the vast majority of entrepreneurs. We don't realize how closely things are being watched until much longer in our careers. It took me forever to understand cause and effect in my business. I didn't understand that when somebody said, "Hey, Alex, I'm quitting. I'll give you two weeks," and I said, "Screw off. Get out of here. You're not getting another penny from me," that six months later when somebody quit and said, "Hey, Alex, I'm quitting today," and I said, "Well, man, I really need you. Can you stay a couple of weeks?" and they said, "No, I can't. Sorry. This is too big an opportunity," and left, that I had brought that on myself, because that second person was just acting accordingly for the culture I was building.
Since I've learned how to allow people to have graceful exits, since I've learned how to allow people to have grace in the most stressful transition of their lives or one of the most stressful transitions of their lives, now when people leave our company or when they're terminated, it's never a big deal. It's never something that's huge. We recover quickly. We have a cadence where we can bring somebody else in to work in that person's positions. I have no issue with being completely and totally graceful and happy for someone who's leaving. These days, I don't get emotional when somebody needs to leave the team and we terminate someone. I'm upset for the person. It's a hard decision for me. It's difficult for me as a CEO to admit that somewhere in my organization I had a process failure, and a person was brought into my company and is now leaving because I know just how damaging that is for the business.
I'm no longer at the point where I'm angry, or yelling, or screaming at people because here's what I can tell you about managing, and leading, and having employed hundreds, if not thousands of people. If you look at contractors, it's certainly in the thousands. Everyone is working through something. Every one of us has something that is challenging us far more than what we're sharing with the people around us. When you build a team, you get the people on that team to contribute, and to help, and to move your goals forward. If someone has to leave your team for any reason, these days I don't get emotional about it anymore. I don't get angry about it anymore because when I back up, I can see the much bigger picture that we're all working towards our greatest contribution, and that when we have the opportunity to work with team members where what they want to do in the world and what we want to have as outcomes match up, and we can contribute, and grow, and create outcomes together, that is one of the most incredibly human things we can do together.
When there's a challenge to that process, when there's a challenge to that dynamic, I look at it and I ask myself, "What's my responsibility in that challenge? What's my responsibility in that miss, and how do I take care of it in the future?" I'm careful that I no longer blame the person in the situation because as the entrepreneur in charge, it's much easier for me to just say, "If there's a problem, it's part of the process, and that's my responsibility. I'll figure it out." When someone decides to leave your team, take a deep breath, be as gracious as you possibly can. If you decide you don't want the person around in the last two weeks, pay them their full two weeks, and then thank them for being there. I've done that before. There's some times where somebody has given us notice, and for one of many reasons I didn't want them in a position because they would have too much responsibility. I wanted the team to adjust, or we were in a place where we were going to assign new responsibilities, and I didn't want them to have them only for less than two weeks. We paid them for the full two weeks.
When somebody leaves the company, congratulate them and let them know that you appreciate their service, and their help, and what they did for you while they were there. Do everything you can to make that exit graceful because everyone's watching you. The more graceful you make exits, here's the irony, the less people will ever leave. If you're ready to start building your team and do so faster, then you should go check out the new Facebook group we have called The Billionaire Code. Just type in billionaire code. If you have a business that's doing over $300,000 a year, you're eligible. Go to Facebook, look up Billionaire Code, and join our group. It's small, it's exclusive. It's only for $300,000 plus business owners. If you qualify, it's one of the best groups on Facebook if you're trying to grow and scale your business.