Vanessa Fudge, Founder and CEO, Leading Well
Much has been written about the power of successful onboarding to engage new staff and promote a sense of belonging. Companies like Google are said to issue new staffers with a balloon in their workspace, announcing to all who pass by that they are a “Noogler” and not yet a Googler and hence could need some extra helping hands and warm welcoming. That is until the balloon gradually deflates and descends to the floor at which point you have officially graduated as a bona fide “Googler”.
Induction, onboarding tours, talks, and fire-side chats are very common when newbies join an organisation. In life, we also love to dote on new babies, mesmerised by their developmental milestones and struck by their fresh innocence and beauty. Yes, you do sense where this is going…
A great deal less expertise and care are often demonstrated with endings. Indeed, many leaders carry with them their own litany of poorly acknowledged endings from previous roles in their career history which they have numbed their awareness, making them less than sensitive to the needs of departing colleagues to be appreciated and acknowledged for their contributions. Endings are not necessarily easy either, with non-compete contractual clauses and other legalities part and parcel of business reality and often taken personally by those departing.
John Whittington in his book “Systemic Leadership” poses the striking question… “How would it be if you knew that your talents and your contributions would be acknowledged and appreciated in your organisation even after you had left?”. This gives a compelling clue as to the drain that poor endings routinely exert on businesses where the promise of the original happy beginning is not effectively honoured at the other end of the belonging cycle.
Our physical bodies generally weaken as we move through old age towards death, but it is the isolation for the elderly that can cause an even greater well-being impact than a loss of physical strength.
Just like for us humans, organisations too can be strengthened by care and diligence and quite simply good leadership applied to endings.
Rebels are not sycophants. They tell it like it is and do not strive to preserve their career trajectory and personal brand in the process. They are often rejected as “difficult” or “disharmonious” and yet they carry the often-heavy weight of the unspoken. They are the best guide for any leader to ascertain the critical gap between your spoken belonging rules and your enacted belonging experience.
Good leadership when applying to beginnings
- Warm welcome rituals
- Explain belonging rules, highlight values and provide the vision
- Recognise newcomer milestones when reached
Good leadership when applying to endings
- Endings must be timely
- Thank people directly
- Farewell rituals important for those leaving and those staying
- Acknowledge inventory of their contribution for those who are leaving even after good endings to provide safety for those remaining and as a reminder that they too will also be honoured in to the future
The paradox hidden in this dynamic is that endings are not to be avoided or even delayed. When a person can no longer serve the purpose of their organisation it is irrefutably their time to go. To maintain someone in a role that they are not filling adequately will lead to inevitable exclusion by those who are. In other words, “when it’s time to go, it’s time to go” but what then constitutes a good ending beyond this first criteria of timeliness?
Thanking people for their contribution during their time with a company provides the opportunity to leave visibly rather than invisibly. This restores human dignity and can overcome imposter syndrome for this person down the track. Rituals such as farewells are vital although often those with histories of bad endings will rebuke such attempts, overlooking that these farewells are just as important to those remaining as they are to those departing.
Going one step further, when leaders can provide an ongoing place for the contribution of those who have left in the narrative of the organisation, a sense of extraordinary safety can be nurtured for those who remain. Indeed, you may just be able to tap into that holy grail where people will believe that their contributions will be valued even after they have moved on. The converse is true of course when those who have left are spoken of with disrespect and blame resulting in an unhealthy pattern in the business.
What about for those individuals departing? To take an inventory of all that they have given while belonging to their organisation is very strengthening, as is acknowledging what they have taken and of course ensuring that they go forth with their self-belief fully intact.