How do I tell my staff I want to quit?

Dear Aunty,

I am the founder of a successful business and I realised after Christmas when it was time to return to work that it was time to quit. While I still love the company I don’t have the interest and passion that I used to build our company.

We have now grown to the size where we are preparing to take on some very large corporates. To do that we need to put processes and logistics in place and that stuff bores the crap out of me. We also need to make a lot more profit and I am the type that spends to invest in growth.

I have led this business for eight years and I think it is going to come as a huge blow to my board and staff that I plan to leave. Do you or your readers have any suggestions as to how I can announce it and should I get the CEO in place before I tell my staff or after?


Dear A,

I often have founders write in who have lost the passion. Mostly I convince them to go off and have a good holiday. We all want out when we feel exhausted and run down from the grind of building a business.

But in your case I won’t bother. You seem to be making the right decision at the right time. So now you must announce it. Tell your board first. And then your staff.

Tell them the vision for the future of the company and the type of CEO that is needed to do that. Be very open about why you don’t fit the bill.

One idea is to stress that you will stay until the right person is found and then continue in some role for six months after that. But I must warn you: you might be in for a surprise.

There is a wonderful article in the May edition of the Harvard Business Review this month by Jeffrey Hollender who was co-founder of Seventh Generation which makes green household products. He details his journey in stepping down from a company that wanted to treble in size from $93 million to $250 million. The first thing he did was write the business case for his succession and presented it to the board. He told them his greatest value moving forward was to be out in the public eye increasing brand awareness and that his lack of experience running a large company made him less effective as a leader.

After a stunned silence the board agreed that bringing in a leader was the right decision. Then he told all the staff at a regular monthly meeting. He says at first people were scared and hungry for details. They had many concerns. Will the new CEO share the values? Will the new leader flip the business for a quick profit?

But he answered their questions, kept them updated every four to six weeks or so and convened a team of senior and junior associates to meet with serious candidates.

He also created a spreadsheet to rate candidates on qualities… and I’ll write about that tomorrow in Aunty B because his list is so interesting!

Anyway, back to my point. Guess what happened? After they found a CEO, he convened his senior managers to ask how quickly the transition should take place. He says: “I thought they would ask me to stay at the top for as long as possible.”

But nope. They told him it was time for him to move on and the sooner the better! Ouch. And he couldn’t help but feel angry and sad and what a disloyal bunch they were, but he also knew they were speaking the truth.

It was time to go.

So yes, it will come as a blow to staff and the board. But not for long. And not if you do it in an open and transparent way.

Good luck,
Your Aunty B

To read more Aunty B advice, click here.

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