How to Say Goodbye Part II: Company

by danyaneering

At most coffees or lunches since I’ve left my job, I see that combo eager/tentative look on people’s faces, as they inquire into my reasons for leaving Skillshare. It’s like I’m a piñata full of pent-up gossip or hurt feelings and all they have to do to enjoy the sweet contents is tap me lightly with a probing question; “So…what happened?”

I hate to disappoint, but I’m still singing Skillshare’s praises. I ain’t this guy.

Sure, I’ve got memories of harsh feedback and failed efforts emblazoned in my mind. And while it’s exactly those sore spots that have inspired me to create a peer mentor community and set of resources for early stage startup employees (more on that soon!), they’re not what define my post-Skillshare state of mind.

Every day, in moments of reflection, in networking conversations, I’m aware of how lucky I am to have Skillshare lineage. For all the sunshiny moments and stormy debates, Skillshare’s mine and I’m theirs. You’ll always be able to Google old articles like this one, where I’m quoted as the face of our community and spokesperson for our mission. And I’ll always have a meaty Skillshare section on my resume that will inform how others view my startup grit and qualifications. We help define each other.

Which is why I agonized over how to say goodbye in a respectful, meaningful, and forward-looking way. And although I couldn’t have predicted how Skillshare would send me on my way, I can now say it was pretty exemplary. Our individual approaches were mutually beneficial – we both knew that if I land well, that’s a win for Skillshare, too.

Here are some tips for employees and companies – startup or not – about how to graciously say goodbye to each other when the employee gives notice or there’s a mutual agreement that it’s time for the employee to go. This is *not* a replacement for a formal Exit Process (companies, you should have a detailed list of what to do when you let go of employees or when they quit), just a guideline for the “how” of it all.

Employees: How to Say Goodbye

  • Don’t be afraid, be prepared –  It’s sooooo much worse for everyone involved if you stick around and are miserable, because it has an impact on your productivity and on your coworkers’ morale. If you’re ready to go, just do it. But know what you’ll say and prepare for common Qs, i.e., Why are you leaving? Do you know where you’re going next? Is there anything we can do to make you stay?
  • Leave the house cleaner than you found it – If you’ve got a couple of weeks to wrap up what you’re working on, don’t just finish up the items on your to do list. Actually prepare your team and company for the next month or the whole quarter if you can. For instance, I left about a month into the quarter but we still had at least one key hire and a few company and team events to take care of. I built a pipeline for the hire and kicked off initial interviews, and I reserved event space and created the Eventbrite listings for all of the meetups and happy hours. Brain dump and playbook what you’ve learned so that your company can go on without you fairly painlessly.
  • Be thankful and give good feedback – Tell your boss and teammates how they shaped your experience. What did you learn from them? I wrote personal notes to each of my coworkers before I left – they were short and sweet, and less awkward than it might have been to pull each of them aside in person. In your exit interview, share feedback about how your experience could have been better – make it a mutual learning experience.
  • If you want to go above and beyond, find your replacement – I wrote the job description for mine (which, by the way, was extremely helpful, as it forced me to define what I had been doing!). Knowing that there were candidates to fill my role helped my conscience a bunch.

Company: How to Say Goodbye

  • Don’t fight it – When I was heading up our talent efforts, I got some good advice at a summit with other companies in our portfolio: trying to make any employee stay when they’re quitting rarely ever works. If someone is giving notice, they’ve already got at least one foot out the door. Offering extra cash for them to stay temporarily is worse than letting them leave and getting started on your replacement search ASAP.
  • Be reasonable with timing – 2 weeks is the norm for a reason – it’s enough time to close out, do knowledge and responsibility transfer, learn last bits from each other, but not too much time to for the employee to feel burnt out all over again. Week 1 will be about accepting the change and planning for the transition. Week 2 will focus on hustling to transfer knowledge and resources and tie up loose ends.
  • Send them off with bells – If you’re feeling nostalgic and bittersweet about losing an employee but know you want to maintain a relationship for them (you never know who you’ll want to hire for your next company! or if they’ll want you to invest in theirs down the road…), then celebrate them. I got roasted at my going away party – hard. But it left me feeling loved (in a sibling rivalry kind of way). And I felt a sense of team, which encouraged me to do my part with renewed vigor and thoroughness towards the end. If you’re feeling particularly generous, send your employees off with some severance – it’s another way of saying thanks for a job well done.
  • Ask what you can do better – Do an exit interview for everyone who leaves who will let you. Learn how to foresee something like this coming the next time or how to avoid doing what you may have done wrong. Use that time to show your future company alum that you respect him or her and set the tone for an ongoing conversation.

There’s a right way to say goodbye…and there’s definitely a not right way.

I can tell you from the past month post-Skillshare that the way we said goodbye has paid off. I’ve encouraged friends of friends to apply for jobs at Skillshare that I know they’d be a fit for, and I’ve had potential clients tell me they’ve heard great things about me from my former colleagues. It feels awesome to have your old teammates trek to Gowanus for your birthday party, meet up with you for a multi-glass-of-wine dinner, and smile when they run into you at the local coffee shop. So, if you’re walking around with a pit in your stomach about badmouthing your former boss when you know you made some of your own missteps along the way, or you regret saying goodbye the way you did…either fix it or do it better next time. It pays.