Are you rushing to fill the gap when an employee quits? Do you ever feel caught off guard? Then maybe it's time to re-evaluate how you manage employee exits. Acceleration Partners CEO Robert Glazer shared with us his advice for increasing employee engagement through a 'Mindful Transition' program.
No job lasts forever. In every professional role, there comes a time when the employer or employee decides that it’s time to move on. And yet, in most work environments, talk of leaving is often taboo.
We are not encouraged to share our doubts or our dreams of a fresh start with coworkers, (let alone our managers) right up until two weeks before our departure. We are expected to lie, we are expected to disappoint our coworkers and we are expected to act like everything is fine when it’s not. We conduct ourselves with honesty and integrity in all other aspects of work, so why not during this period of transition?
Robert Glazer not only believes there is a better way, but has shown how it can work in practice. Glazer is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners, a global performance marketing agency where he strives to create a world-class culture for his employees. Frustrated with the two weeks' notice paradigm, Glazer implemented a company-wide program he calls Mindful Transitions. The program serves as an antidote to the harmful consequences most companies face as a result of the two weeks' notice tradition.
Glazer spoke with us at TINYcon about the incredible success he has seen with the program. He is now on a mission to challenge the status quo worldwide, and revolutionize the way we communicate layoffs, resignations and terminations in the workplace.
To explain the problems inherent in the standard two week’s notice policy, Glazer shared with us the story of Diane - a story that many of us will find familiar.
Diane is a CEO who works hard on her company culture. She enjoys great Glassdoor scores, uses TINYpulse to boost employee engagement, and is proud to provide a great place to work. That’s why, Glazer says, it’s “surprising and disheartening to Diane when an employee, who she mentored and thought was happy, hands in her two weeks' notice.” This practice, Glazer argues, is a “relic from the command and control era of leadership” that has some nasty side effects:
The employer is not given an opportunity to fix the problem and then has to rush to find a replacement.
The employee leaves on a bad note, with a trust deficit. Their performance is usually poor towards the end of their tenure.
Whether it’s a resignation or a termination, the effects are the same: trust is compromised and productivity is sacrificed. So why does this happen? According to Glazer, it’s because “honest conversations are not encouraged on both sides. The paradigm is not to talk about these problems, to bury them and pretend they don’t exist.”
When we compare the practice to our personal lives, it’s absurdity becomes even clearer: “Can you imagine if your partner came to you and said ‘I’m moving from Seattle to Boston in two weeks. I’ve found a new husband, I have a new house and here’s my official two weeks' notice.’”
The Start of the Mindful Transitions Program
In search of a better approach, Glazer investigated what other companies were doing to tackle the issue. He was inspired by Netflix’s high-performance culture. Netflix is very honest with their team about their abilities, and quick to offer generous severance packages when employees do not meet expectations.
While Glazer couldn’t afford to be quite as generous his own company, what he could provide was a safe space to address job concerns. “We said to people that if you come to talk to us about your problems, we promise you we will not walk you to the door.” For Glazer, this approach works both ways. He wanted to be upfront with employees when their performance was lacking, and give them enough time to look for jobs elsewhere.
The first time Robert explored the concept of a mindful transition in practice was with an employee we’ll call ‘Jim’. Jim was well-liked in the office but he had gone through a PIP and was struggling to fulfill the requirements of his role. Rather than disrupt service for his clients with an abrupt termination, Glazer sat him down for an honest conversation. “We said to Jim, let’s give it a few months. You can continue to work for the client, start your job search and we’ll support you.”
This journey marked the beginning of Glazer’s Mindful Transition program. Since starting the program, he’s learned some important lessons along the way that have helped make it a success.
Create a Foundation of Safety
A sense of safety is an essential part of Mindful Transitions. Employees must believe they will not be compromising their job security by speaking up. “It all starts with people being open and honest about their challenges, if they’re feeling happy or fulfilled in their role and removing the taboo of talking about leaving.”
Train the Stakeholders
For Glazer, it’s no wonder that managers avoid talking with employees about transitions: “an employee leaving reflects poorly on themselves, so having these conversations is uncomfortable”. But managers play a key role in transitions, and need support and training to navigate their way through difficult conversations. That’s why, Glazer says, managers must be “trained to handle the warning signs of employee unhappiness, be ready to let people leave and understand that it will take time to gain trust and honesty from their team”.
Be in the Know: Ignorance is Not Bliss
In a successful Mindful Transition program, managers are proactive about seeking feedback from their team. This means that problems are identified before they become toxic, and employees are less likely to ‘quit and stay’. Glazer states “A lot of people have already quit your company, they just work there. And these are the most dangerous people.” At Acceleration Partners, Glazer uses a few methods of information collection to help managers stay in the know:
Direct feedback from individuals
Quarterly performance reviews
Regular 1-1 check ins with employees
TINYpulse employee engagement platform
Start, Stop, Continue Lists
Q&A sessions at Town Halls
Fixing Internal Problems
Not all resignations and terminations are inevitable. There are concrete measures every manager can take to increase the average tenure of their employees. The first step towards addressing unhappiness or performance issues lies in diagnosing the root cause of the problem.
Glazer splits these causes into three buckets:
Things an employee can change and wants to change
Employees must be aware and committed to fixing these issues in order to succeed in their roles. Some examples include:
Relationship problems inside or outside of work
Skills that require more training
Things the company can change and is willing to change
In these situations, an employee will raise an issue with their manager and the company will decide that it’s in their interest to fix the problem. Examples of these issues include:
A bad relationship with a manager
The employee feels underpaid
The employee doesn’t feel challenged enough
The employee wants to change roles
Things that won't change and nobody wants to change
There’s no good solution here and it’s probably best to start a transition as soon as possible. Examples of these issues include:
The employee is a poor core value fit with the company
The employee wants a raise/promotion but the company thinks they are not deserving
A job role changes and the employee is no longer qualified
The employee wants to do something different but the opportunities aren’t there
When a problem’s root cause is identified early, managers can change the course of an employee’s career for the better. The diagram below shows the two different pathways employees can take when issues are addressed or ignored.
In the first path, a “kernel of discontent” quickly turns into frustration, and a ‘quit and stay’ mindset sets in. In the second path, managers engage in an open dialogue with employees and either fix the issue or initiate a transition period. The average employee tenure is shorter, but positive and more productive.
Glazer says that he has faced many objections to his approach to transitions. The most common argument is “They’re already toxic so it’s better to show them the door”. When problems are confronted early, however, employees are not given the opportunity to become toxic. “When people tell me that you can’t have employees around for two to three months, they’re envisioning the person who’s already damaged and gone, not the person who’s having productive conversations at the beginning of the process.”
A Warning about Performance Improvement Plans
If we are truly committed to solving a problem, it’s important to address the root cause and not the symptom. According to Glazer, PIPs are intended as a long-term solution to improve performance but in reality, the effect is only temporary. “Imagine you have three people with a headache and you give them all tylenol (to which a PIP is). But one is dehydrated, one is allergic to gluten and the other has brain cancer - these are very different roots of why they have a headache.” Glazer adds that PIPs can work if the employee is just a little stagnant, but most managers issue them as band aids when they really need a longer term solution.
In other cases, PIPs are put in place as a way for a company to record why a person was fired in case of litigation. Glazer notes that this is a misguided practice. “If you knew you were going to get rid of this person and then put them through a PIP, forced them to fail, and documented it - you’re only going to make them more angry.” Glazer urges managers to begin with the end in mind when deciding whether to issue a PIP. When the company has already decided to terminate an employee, PIPs will be exposed for what they are: calculating and disingenuous.
Employee Initiated Transitions
Not every problem has a viable solution. Sometimes issues fall into the third category of ‘can’t be fixed or won’t be fixed’. In these situations, managers and employees should communicate their concerns as early as possible, and make a plan to respectfully part ways.
According to Glazer, a key component of the Mindful Transitions program is to “help employees recognize for themselves that it’s time for them to move on.” Ideally, employees should always drive transitions. That means it’s up to managers to “establish enough trust so that employees feel comfortable having this conversation”. Glazer also recommends that managers be attentive to employee needs, and ask questions like “What do you want to do next?” or “How can we support you?”
The end result is a transition process that embraces honesty and mutually beneficial outcomes. As Glazer says, “‘It’s great to not be lying! It’s great to not have fake doctor's appointments towards the end, where you look back and realize what was really going on.”
The paradox of mindful transitions:
It’s important to note that companies with positive cultures face greater challenges when encouraging employee-initiated transitions. Glazer says that employees who really like their coworkers and their company can find it difficult to identify for themselves that they aren’t in the right job anymore. And these situations “require even more difficult conversations and pushing” on the part of managers.
Employer Initiated Transitions
Unfortunately, not all transitions will be driven by employees. There will be times when they must be initiated by the employer. This could be due to systemic performance issues, a change in role or a misalignment of core values. Glazer shared with us some key pointers for conducting a successful employer-driven transition:
Have a written plan. Communicate to the employee that they are beginning a transition program and clearly lay out expectations.
Be tactful about communication. Allow employees to decide when their departure is communicated internally. Don’t differentiate between employee driven and employer driven transitions in company-wide communications.
Have a clear timetable. A sixty to ninety day period is standard for most transitions, unless there is a structural change in someone’s life (for example, when a high performer is starting business school). As Glazer says “If someone knows they’re going back to school nine months ahead of time, why would you want them to give you two weeks notice?”
Provide leads and recommendations. Show your support for their career ambitions by introducing them to LinkedIn connections and people in your network. Glazer even suggests writing a letter of recommendation an employee can use to bolster their resume.
Offer up internal resources. An HR professional or recruiter in your company can help with an employee’s job search by reviewing their resume or conducting practice interviews.
Make it personal. Rather than spend money on severance packages, provide financial support tailored to your employees. Glazer offers the example of a company that bought a new suit and paid for additional training to help an employee secure a new position elsewhere.
The actions that managers take during a transition period is critical to the program’s success, but equally critical is the behavior of the employee. Whether in an employer or employee initiated transition: Glazer asks two things of his team members:
Stay engaged and performing: Employees must remain committed to serving clients right up until the end. If they become disengaged or toxic, the transition period should be cut short.
Embrace transparency and open communication: Glazer asks employees to keep the company in the loop about the progress of their job search, and provide as much notice as possible when they find a new role.
By following these steps, employers can stay on good terms with employees and protect their company image. As Glazer states “It’s a small world and everyone has a voice on social media. It’s just not worth having this angry person all over Glassdoor making your life miserable when you could do a little more to build an active alumni group, who are out there being a positive force for you.
A Mindful Transitions program is a radical departure from the norm, which means that shifting to this model may pose challenges for both leaders and employees alike. If you’re interested in trying the program, but don’t yet have C-level support, Glazer suggests adopting it at a team level first. Once the program is in place, it’s important to communicate it to your team early and often. “Talk about it as soon as people start their jobs or even before they start.”
By following these steps, Glazer hopes that more companies will throw out the old playbook from the command and control era and replace it with a new playbook: one that prioritizes trust, open and honest communication, and a commitment to mutually beneficial outcomes.
Robert Glazer spoke at TINYcon 2018. If you want to learn more about Mindful Transition, sign up for the upcoming book, or have Robert as a speaker (we highly recommend him!), visit his website.
To reserve your tickets to next year's TINYcon, and make sure that you're keeping up to date with the latest in employee engagement and company culture, get your early bird tickets now! If you're looking for more tips or info on improving company culture, you can also read our culture report.
READ MORE LIKE THIS:
- Moz's Sarah Bird on Transparency, Diversity and Cultural Change
- How Howard Behar Used Company Values to Build Starbucks’ Culture