Someone is soon to be leaving your organization, whether it’s a long-time employee, founder, partner, CEO. People leave organizations for many reasons; it is a normal feature of any workplace. The separation may be considered under “good terms,” maybe less so. Whatever the dynamic, any workplace separation involves much more than signing agreements and getting the security pass turned in.
It’s easier to let the separation blow over and “move on.” But these are sensitive, complex events that can make or break an organization. The hard part is facing the music for yourself and the sake of your people, workplace culture, performance, and future stability. In our article on "Workplace Separations: Considerations for a Smooth Team Transition," we focused on the folks left behind. Now we're going to focus on the organization itself.
Based on our conflict advisory work with clients in the throes of workplace separation, we offer this short guide -- some questions to be considered and a simple starting process to achieve results that will support everyone. This is not a legal guide, but some important factors to ensure preservation of your most precious resources - your talent and your brand.
Consider the following questions to create a smoother transition, as well as potentially avoiding new disputes and their associated costs.
The Big picture:
How will you know that you have been successful at this transition as an organization?
Who within the organization will lead the effort?
What is the timing of the separation? What will be best for the person and for the organization?
What does the decision-making process look like prior to and during the transition?
What are the governance and/or general decision-making changes that will happen when this person leaves?
Does the operating agreement reference the separation of a founder/partner/leader? Is that agreement still valued and does it apply here?
Is a “lock-out” necessary? If so, what are the actions that need to take place, and when?
What are the transition activities to be expected from the departing person?
What are the role/responsibility/physical access handovers that must happen, and when? Are there roles that this person held which should not be filled?
Does the person departing want any continued involvement in the organization? If so, what? How long? Why?
Do the remaining partners/leadership want the person to have continued involvement in the organization? What? How long? Why? Why not?
Are there relationships within the co-founder/exec/leadership team that require special attention in order to make this transition smooth?
How important is confidentiality around the person separating from the organization?
Are the remaining founders/partners/leaders on board with all the decisions made around this separation? How important is it that everyone agree?
Will there be a severance package, stock buyout, or any other form of compensation?
Are there prior agreements in place that will inform the process of compensation upon separation?
If the departing person remains a shareholder, what will the parameters be around that shareholder relationship with the organization?
If shares are being purchased by the organization, what are the details in terms of valuation (methodology, public market, future investments that will be affected)?
If an amount to be paid by the organization will be paid in the future, what are the terms of that debt/loan?
Is there a methodology in place for share value in the future? Are there closing conditions that must be met by any parties?
Are there tax matters involved for any of the parties that should be considered?
Who/what will pay for professional fees around this purchase/sale/separation?
Who is/are the agreed-upon attorney/CPA/other professionals who will be involved in supporting this event?
You will want to include the most trusted people on the team or in the organization to carry out the separation process. Depending on the structure of your organization, it might include team leader(s), founder(s), HR director, CEO. Have an open discussion about as many of the above items that make sense to talk about.
Have one person outline a DRAFT plan that answers as many of the questions as needed.
Review the draft, edit, solidify and set an action plan(s) with dates.
If the relationship between the person leaving and the balance of the team is contentious, consider having an outside-the-team facilitator help with the process.
Let's circle back to the first question: "How will you know that you have been successful at this transition as an organization?" Your thorough and thoughtful response, with the guidance of the considerations we've shared, will drive a successful separation experience.