When starting wattsnext and setting the vision, a very important element was to inspire and develop our people. If and when people decide to move on, they would leave wattsnext with more skills and capabilities, and the foundation to create a better life than they would’ve had, if they had not worked with our tribe.
Anyone who has worked with me knows I am a personal development junkie. Always encouraging the team to use our internal library of personal development and business books, set goals and spend time imagining their big dreams and then presenting them on our shared vision board. I always encourage my team to live their dream life.
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So, when two valued and high-performing team members came to me within days of each other with sadness in their eyes and fear of making the wrong decision, to tell me that they had decided to move on from wattsnext, my response was… congratulations!
Of course, at first I felt a wave of disappointment and panic, and yes, I am very sad to lose them from my business. There is also always the hassle of recruitment and the cost of training and unsettling the current team. However both of these team members are embarking on new adventures that are going to stretch them further out of their comfort zones and teach them new things.
One of our most encouraged values at wattsnext is ‘we work on the skinny branches’. If you imagine a beautiful fruit tree, at the base on the ground you will find fallen fruit. This is fruit that anyone can easily access, however it is usually a bit bruised or rotten.
The delicious juicy fruit can be found hanging high in the air and if you want to access that juicy fruit you need to have the courage to climb the tree and get out on the skinny branches. You have to have the courage to step outside of your comfort zone for the sweeter reward.
At wattsnext everyone is continuously pushed to step out of their comfort zone and do things that make them nervous and uncomfortable so that they can achieve things they never thought they could. Nothing makes me prouder than a team member coming back from a ‘skinny branches’ activity with a massive smile, euphoria and genuine surprise that they did it!
What usually follows is curiosity. A curiosity to discover what other previously inconceivable targets are now within reach. And so the growth begins!
So how could I be upset by these two departing employees who are living our values and getting on the skinny branches of their career? Especially when they both attributed their ability to apply and be offered these big roles to what they learnt in my business and from me!
Don’t get me wrong not all people who have left wattsnext have done so positively. It’s not something that makes me happy, in fact, most of those times I’ve felt gutted for quite some time. However I am in the people business, I know it happens, it is inevitable. We see it all the time. Just like romantic relationships, some end much better than others. We must remove the emotion.
What is important to remember is that people moving on from your business doesn’t have to be seen as negative. As business owners it’s really easy and normal to immediately think it is a reflection on us. That we have done something wrong, have a bad workplace and are not good leaders.
We beat ourselves up as we feel rejected. Could we have done more to keep them?
We often hear the saying that people leave managers not jobs and I agree that this is often the case. We as managers and leaders are often the problem, we do need to look at ourselves and our businesses and strive to be better. It is important to reflect and understand why someone is moving on and if there is something we can do to make it better for the current tribe.
But sometimes a great new opportunity has come up for someone and as business owners we have helped them step to that next level.
I often hear business owners bragging about retention ‘no one has left my business in nine years’. I think that is more dangerous than having movement in your business. Particularly in our new world of work where our generations are much more mobile, not only changing jobs every two to three years but expected to change careers up to four times in their lifetime.
People can get stale and there is nothing worse than an employee who is going stale in your business with no motivation to leave.
So when I receive a resignation letter, I take the emotion out of the situation and see the positives for both parties (which by the way is extremely difficult). What better compliment to your business than one of your employees being offered a fantastic opportunity because of what they learnt in your workplace. What a compliment, that other businesses want staff who have been trained and mentored by you or worked in your business.
As business owners we must keep investing in our people but we must accept they won’t stay forever. When staff choose to move on, we must ensure they are better because of having worked for us.
We need to remove the emotion, this is going to become more frequent and it is not personal.
Wish them all the best and be proud your contribution to their careers, because when one door closes another one always opens… I promise!
Sue-Ellen Watts is the founder and director of wattsnext, specialists in HR, recruitment, compliance and people performance.