In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to successfully “offboard” a departing team member.

Sometimes a team member might leave the team, and when this happens, some founders tend to worry about losing them and their valuable knowledge and experience they bring to the team.

In this episode, Steli and Hiten share their thoughts on how to oversee the transition in a way that helps you retain that expertise, who should be involved, how to motivate the departing colleague and much more

Time Stamped Show Notes:

00:00 About the topic of today’s episode

00:32 Why this topic was chosen.

01:17 How to handle this issue when it arises.

01:45 The 2 emotions that cause people to have trouble with this.

02:01 Why you should look at it from the customer’s shoes.

02:29 Why communication is key to handling this properly.

03:51 Why you should highlight when things go right.

04:18 Why you should never talk badly about your former employees.

05:23 One of the things that companies do wrong.

05:54 Why you should sell your new employees.

08:04 Why you should always make it about the customer.

3 Key Points:

  • You wanna be human and part of that is making sure that you’re not being negative about the person.
  • I think there’s a human tendency to either be honest be afraid.
  • The way you communicate matters more than what you communicate.



Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.



Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.



Steli Efti: And in today’s episode of The Startup Chat we’re going to talk about how to successfully ‘off board’ a team member. We’ll take the example of a sales rep. Somebody emailed me this morning saying Steli, I’m parting way with a salesperson. This salesperson has relationships with customers, with prospects, with other team members. This salesperson has a lot of knowledge. How do I off board them successfully, making sure that they transfer their knowledge to other people on the team, making sure the relationships within the team are fine. But also how do I off board them specifically having the relationships they have with customers and prospects of mine, and connect them with a new team member. How do I do this well?



Hiten Shah: Yeah, as you know this is a great question and something that’s not really talked about, right?



Steli Efti: Yep.



Hiten Shah: I helped someone through something similar yesterday, and they had the same kind of question. I think it’s with many things. I’d say you want to be human. And part of being human in this case is making sure that you’re not being negative about the person in this process. I think that’s important. It doesn’t matter why the person is leaving. You don’t need to air your dirty laundry to your customers. I think there’s a human tendency to either be honest or be afraid of what’s going to happen. I would say that those are the two emotions that cause people to have trouble with this. At the end of the day, this is one of those situations where I’m sure you have thoughts, considering the example we’re going to give is about sales stuff, I’m dying to hear how you think about it. I think there’s just a couple of principles for me. Those two, and then the last one is really like if you’re in the customer’s shoes, how would you think about it, and what would you want to hear? What would be the best message for you?



Steli Efti: Beautiful, I love it. I especially love the one that fear might cause you to deal with the situation in a way that creates more problems than it solves, right?



Hiten Shah: Right.



Steli Efti: And I think that it amplifies something and makes it seem like a much bigger deal. And the way you deal about this … Okay, stepping back … I think the way you communicate matters a lot more than what you communicate, right?



Hiten Shah: Yep.



Steli Efti: So if you say this is terrible, but you say it in a comfortable way, a confident way, with a smile, in a calm demeanor, you’re like hey, it’s terrible that this person is leaving, here’s what we’re doing next, people are going to stay calm about things. If you say, this is not a problem at all and no, nobody needs to panic but you’re in a panic, people are going to panic. So the way you feel about the situation is going to influence both internally your team and externally your customers and anybody else that interacts with it. So it’s important for you to have some level of perspective and calm. And realize that no matter what the situation is, it’s not that big of a deal. Be fair, be honest. And just move on with life. This is not a once in a … You’re not the first or last company that’s ever had somebody leave. It happens all the time. So companies know how to deal wit this; customers know how to deal with this. Just deal with it well. With the specific example on the sales side, I mean there’s some nuances and differences if the parting of ways was amicable or not. There might be some differences there. But I would definitely say no matter what it is, if it’s a great transition and if it was amicable on both sides, you feel really good about it, it’s worth highlighting that. If it was a really terrible parting of ways, I don’t think it’s worth highlighting that. And I want to double click on what you said earlier which is sometimes people think wow, this person is leaving, they might trash talk us so we have to trash talk that person as well. Or this person is leaving, how do I explain this to customers? The best way to do it is to tell customers how terrible this person was so it’s actually good they’re leaving. That’s never a good idea. If you talk badly about your prior employees I will assume a number of things. Number one, you’re not trustworthy. And you might talk bad about me with other people. Number two, you’re terrible at hiring. Who tells me that this new sales rep you’re putting me in touch with, or this new account manager, or whoever else it is is not as terrible or worse since you’re obviously bad at hiring people. It’s just going to instantly lower my impression of you as a person and you as a company. So never, ever no matter how terrible this employee was, no matter if they frauded you or not, if they did unspeakable things, I would not air that dirty laundry outside. I would just say hey, we had to part ways. Here’s what’s happening next for you. And I would just move on and talk about the future instead of explaining everything in detail to customers. A, most of the time they don’t care and B, it’s not really helpful to the most important question to them which is what happens next. One more thing I’ll say about this is that one of the things that companies do wrong … So I want to highlight that point right now … Especially when it comes to sales or customer facing people, when it comes to handing off an existing relationship with a prospect or a customer to a new team member because an old team member is leaving, is companies don’t think about selling the new team member properly enough. So they just go hey, Hiten, Steli’s not with us any more, let me introduce you to your new sales rep, Bob. That’s it. That’s usually how those intros go, or these handoffs. Or, even worse, it’s not even an introduction from somebody you know, but it’s like hey, Hiten, this is Bob, I know that you used to talk to Steli but he’s not with us. I’m your new rep. Let me know if I can help. Cheers. That to me is a very poor handoff. A, it makes me go what the hell happened to Steli? And who is this Bob guy and how should I trust him or her or whoever the rep is? It’s a very harsh transition. I would usually have some kind of a model where somebody that knows the customer makes the intro. And if there’s nobody that knows the customer I would have the founder or CEO make the intro, even if it’s at scale you can template this stuff and do it in bulk. But I would have somebody that knows the customer or is kind of very high up the ladder authority-wise in the company say hey, I wanted to personally reach out, Steli’s no longer with us, we know that you’re a really important customer because of xyz or a really important prospect. We know that you need still a lot of help from us, so we want to make sure you’re in the best hands possible. Let me introduce you to Bob. And now I’m going to follow Bob. Bob has been with the company for ten years. He’s the most senior guy that we have. He’s incredible at xyz and he loves golfing just like you. I think you and Bob are going to get along really, really well. Looking forward to it, and let me know, I’m always happy to get in touch if you need any help. And then Bob responds to that email and introduces himself again, and tries to set up a call to make this transition smooth. That’s the way that I would go about things. And most companies don’t.



Hiten Shah: That’s so important. And this is what I mean when I say people are poor at this. They make it all about them when it’s like, just think about the customer. The customer wants to know they’re in good hands, and they want to know that you care. They always do. But in this case, they’ve been used to talking to one single person usually. And they want to feel great about continuing their relationship with you. And the best way to do that would be, as you mentioned, make it a personal intro to some extent. And then have the person go in and introduce themselves. I love the tidbit about Bob likes golf, just like you. Anything you can do to help the people understand that you care about them. And I think one of the ways to do it is exactly as you said, probably the key way. And it’s also … Like I mentioned, I was helping someone with this yesterday, and that’s exactly what I was doing. When you intro the new person, make sure that you let people know why this person is working with them. And there’s always a why, right?



Steli Efti: Yes. I think that again it comes back to the how you’re communicating is as important as what you’re communicating. Maybe even more important sometimes. Think about the customer again. I’m sending an email to Steli that I’ve been speaking to for three months now about purchasing this product, and then I get an auto response email back that goes Steli is not working with this company any more. For any inquiries about sales, email sales at [inaudible] or something like that. Think about how that makes a prospect feel. What the hell is going on in that company. Steli’s not there any more? Why did I hear about that? Should I try to get in touch with Steli? But I don’t have his email; should I just ping him on LinkedIn? Who am I going to get a response from if I send a generic email to some generic contact at … It’s such a terrible experience, and it makes me feel like there’s some kind of a panic going on, or revolving door. This company’s churning so many employees, it can’t even handle this so it just has this kind of autoresponder policy in place. Just leaves a very bad taste, and it leaves the prospect or the customer with a ton of questions and no clear guidance on what to do next and how to feel about things. You never want to have that. I just want to touch on one thing before we wrap this episode up, which is the internal part. I think the same kind of principles apply internally. How do you break the news to the team? How do you communicate to the team what happened and what is going to happen next? It always starts with two big questions people will have. The first question is holy shit, does this mean we’re in trouble? Does this mean that there’s something wrong with the company? People have always a knee-jerk reaction; it’s like is this bad news that I should be worried about if somebody’s leaving or being fired? So you need to address that. And then the next question people have is all right, how do we move forward? What does this mean now? Who is replacing this person? Who is doing this person’s work? What are we learning from the mistakes we made if we made any mistakes? And people are wondering okay, once the question is answered to is this bigger bad news than just this person leaving, should I be concerned about my own job or about the company? Once you address that question then people switch to the next question which is how do we move forward? Who’s going to do the job? What did we learn from this? How do we progress? So you have to answer these two basic questions really, really well. And you probably have to do a little bit of follow up work. No matter how well you communicate this in a team meeting or in a team email or whatever you do, and no matter if you have an open floor policy and go any questions, does anybody have any concerns, share that? People will always need a little time to compute that information and deal with it, so it’s probably a good idea, especially for higher ranking or more important or more tenured employees that are parting ways with you, to maybe check in a few days later with some key people or people that have been working with this person, to see how they really feel about things. In a perfect scenario everybody would be super proactive and speak out if they’re still concerned. But the reality is that a lot of people are not going to feel comfortable, I’m not sure how to approach you or approach other team members about it. So it’s always a good idea to communicate openly, clearly and transparently with everybody. But then maybe follow up and check in with a few key people and see if they still have concerns or things they’re wondering about or if this still impacts them in some way that you can address and help with.



Hiten Shah: Yep. I think that’s super key. What do you think? Are we good on this one?



Steli Efti: Yeah, I think we’re good on this one.



Hiten Shah: All right.



Steli Efti: All right. We’ll see you all very soon.



Hiten Shah: Happy off boarding.