Retention is a delicate professional topic. Parting ways is a painful experience, regardless of the circumstances. However, it is especially emotionally loaded when it happens unilaterally and takes the other side by surprise. We, therefore, tend to view these situations as inherently “bad.” Where in fact, in some cases, parting ways while still regrettable was the right thing to do, and in some cases, it could and should have been avoided.
1. Did we have an open dialogue with that individual about their dreams, priorities and concerns, the different kinds of opportunities they were thinking about on the outside, and what might be possible for them within the firm?
2. Did we think creatively and well about the best way for that individual to realize their aspirations within the firm, and identify specific things that would make a positive difference?
3. If we made any commitments based on this dialogue, did we fulfill them?
If we answered “yes” to all three questions, we have done the right things, and parting ways was the right outcome. If we answered “no” to any of the three questions, we could have done more to keep a talented employee.
#3 is relatively straightforward — honor your commitments / don’t make promises you cannot keep. However, consistently answering “yes” to #1 and #2 usually requires putting in place a bit of structure/process to help us ensure that these conversations are taking place consistently and effectively.
How to have these conversations is where some of Google’s contributions to their Re:Work People Ops open-source repository come in particularly handy:
GROW is a neat problem-solving/coaching framework that’s been around for a few decades. Variants have evolved over the years but in one of the more popular variations GROW stands for Goal, Reality, Obstacles/Options, Way forward. Google developed a very good career development conversation worksheet around this framework, focusing on four key reflection questions:
- Goal: What do you want?
- Reality: What’s happening now?
- Options: What could you do?
- Way forward: What will you do?
One of the things I particularly like about it, is that it avoids a common anti-pattern in these interactions that implicitly (over even worse, explicitly) shifts the responsibility for the employee’s career development from the employee to the manager. You are always the primary person responsible for your career development. However, the manager can be a powerful ally in coaching you through the process and helping you to remove obstacles. The shared inquiry framing of the worksheet allows the manager to play the role of a proactive coach in the process, without assuming an unreasonable amount of responsibility in the process.