A few weeks back I got an email from Weston’s school. It was a long email, and it had a lot of information in there about how they were planning on handling the back to school process and how there were a lot of changes occurring. It just seemed like one of many emails they’d been sending to get parents emotionally and mentally prepared, so I didn’t pay particular attention.
Until at the very, very bottom I noticed something a bit off. I noticed that as they closed out the email, they listed the three teachers for the 3-6 age group. However, who they didn’t list, was Weston’s teacher. Who they didn’t list, was his one of a kind, chair of the department, always went waaay above and beyond teacher who always knew exactly how to handle our 4 going on 40 year old boy. Nope, she wasn’t listed.
My mind immediately started to race and run, thinking, “Wait, what?! Why? Why wasn’t she mentioned? Where did she go? What’s happening? What did I miss? What’s going on here?!” Well, obviously I needed to know. So I went back through the email and sorted through it with a fine tooth comb, over and over. There was so many words and so many paragraphs and none of them mentioned a thing about about his teacher. I was so confused. I reread it over, and over, and over. And then I found it.
An Employee Exit Shouldn’t Be Shared Nonchalantly
I found two tiny sentences stating that his teacher was leaving and that they wished her well, and then it quickly moved on to talking about the new teacher and how she’ll make a great addition to the team. It was like they were writing to simply say, when you drop your kids off this year, park in the front instead of the back.
Not, umm, the center of our entire program has left, and someone brand new will be stepping in. Not, the teacher that your child has grown to love and learn from and was planning on coming back to and you were relieved by that fact (in a Montessori school children have the same teacher for three years) will in fact no longer be here. Not, the teacher that you as a parent have grown to love, rely on, and trust, has left. Nope, just, she left and we wish her the best. Simple as that.
So, let me tell you, this was sad. It was really, REALLY sad. It was already going to be a tough year, and then they share that his teacher who our entire family has bonded with and greatly trusts, has left. Now he’ll be with a teacher who no one knows and who won’t be able to provide the same comfort to Weston during an already challenging year.
And if that wasn’t upsetting enough, to have her leave be brushed over so nonchalantly and to act like this one thing we knew we could really rely on to uphold some level of certainty, was now gone. Well, that was just as upsetting as her leaving. To have her contributions and then her exit be cast off with such lightness seemed, disrespectful, unfair, and just, not right.
An Exiting Employee is Hard for You, & Your Clients
But what would have been a better way? What would have been the way to respect the employee who left, and the clients, while also not focusing on the loss or causing clients to leave right along with the employee? Well let’s talk about it, and let’s talk about how to handle it when it happens to you and your firm.
The fact of the matter is, when your clients bond with someone at your firm, that person starts to represent your firm, or at least part of it, in that client’s mind. Whether you lead a larger firm and you have designers who work on projects independently, or you have junior designers or an assistant that works alongside you, clients will bond with these other employees. Clients will feel comfort in knowing that they’re around, in knowing that they’re on the job. They’ll feel less stress knowing that this employee is looking out for their best interests, and a greater connection to your firm as they continue to deepen their bond.
So what happens when that person chooses to leave for whatever reason? Well, then, it’s going to be a bit of a jarring experience for a client. It’s going to leave them confused, maybe hurt as if it was personal, and certainly a bit uncomfortable. And although you naturally want to protect your clients from this and just want them to know that everything will be ok, what you don’t want to do is well, act like it’s not a big deal, because to that client it may very well be a big deal. It may actually be a very, very big deal.
Give Clients the Room to Grieve
Now what should you do when a client leaves? And how do you acknowledge the client’s potential upset without well, causing the client to be upset? Well, you essentially give clients the space to grieve. You respect and understand that clients will feel a loss, may be upset and feel anxious, and give them that room to do so.
You don’t just hastily inform clients that the employee is leaving and then move on. No, you want to respect that employee, and your clients, more than that. Instead you want to honor that employee, talk about their contributions to the firm, to projects, talk about how much they’ll be missed, and then wish them the best in their new endeavors. In a way, you first treat it as a loss, because, well, it is. And then and only then, do you move on to talk about the future.
Then once it’s time to transition into talking about the future, you share with the client how you’re going to handle the change. You talk about how this won’t interrupt the project or its high quality. You acknowledge that the adjustment may be a bit strange or disconcerting at the beginning but assure them that it will be a seamless and stress free process. You essentially want to handle it like you should handle all problems, address it quickly and directly (email is fine for an administration change or someone who isn’t directly involved in a project, but a phone call is necessary if someone who is directly involved in the project leaves) listen to the client if they have any grievances, acknowledge and respect them, and then talk about the plan to move on.
Don’t Let Clients’ Minds Wander or Wonder about Why an Employee Left
And although you may be worrying right now that talking too much about an employee who left may cause the client to leave as well, what ends up happening instead is that the client respects you and your firm, for respecting that employee. They think, “hmm, must have parted ways happily and she just wanted to move on to do something different. Ok, that really stinks, and I’ll miss her, but it’ll be fine.” And then they move on.
But when you barely say a thing about the employee leaving? Well then it seems as if you’re hiding something, and clients begin to wonder. They begin to think, “Are things not going well over there? Are they mistreating employees? I wonder what went down?” Then what may or may not have happened becomes gossip that may be worlds apart from the truth. But if you’re upfront, honest, and respectful about an employee moving on to grow in their career, then there’s nothing to wonder about. Then the wondering stops and you can move on to, well, moving on.
Now I know that this can be easier said than done, especially because an employee leaving feels very personal. And when they leave to start their own firm? Well, now it’s not only personal, it’s also competition. But regardless of both, it’s still something that needs to be done. It needs to be done for the benefit of you and the client because in the end, it’s the only thing that will allow everyone to successfully move forward.
And while I know that the thinking behind what his school was doing, and what most employers do when they handle an employee leaving, is to not dwell on the past or the negative and instead put focus on the hopeful future, it ends up having the opposite effect. It has the effect of being flippant about how big it can feel to clients that an employee has left. It leaves clients feeling disrespected when the fact that they may be feeling anxious isn’t acknowledged before there’s a refocus on the future.
Because well when an employee leaves, clients will in fact grieve that loss if they in anyway had a relationship with that employee. And tough as that is, you want that. You want your clients to have a connection to your employees. Whether it’s because they know they can rely on them to pick up the phone when they call in, or that they’ll always be the one to chat them up at every site visit, clients will bond with employees. And that’s a good thing.
So when and if that employee then decides to move on, well, then, respect the employee first, before you move on to the future. Before your client can know that everything will be ok, that nothing in the project will suffer, that their replacement will be just as good as whoever came before them, they first must know that that you feel the loss too and that it’s ok.
Let me know in the comments below, have you ever had to tell clients that an employee left? How did it go?
And if you’re for looking for even more ways to serve your clients exceptionally well, and are looking for a step by step plan on how to do just that, we’ve got that answer for you here!