I talk a lot about the hiring process that we go through, but there is also the other side of that. When people leave us. Hibernating Rhinos has been around for about a decade, in that time it grew from a single guy operation to a company that cross the bridge from small to medium business a couple of years ago.
When I founded the company, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to have. Actually, I had a very clear idea of what I didn’t want to have. The things that I didn’t want to carry over to my own company. For example, on call for 24/7 or working hours that exceed the usual norms or being under constant pressure. By and large, looking back at our history and where we are today, I think that we did a pretty good job at upholding these values.
But that isn’t the topic of this post. I wanted to talk about people leaving the company. Given the time that we are in business, we actually have very little turnover. Oh, we had people come and go, and I had to fire people who weren’t pulling their weight. But those were almost always people who were at the company for a short while (typically under a year).
In the past six months, we had two people leave that were with us for three and seven years (about three months apart from one another). That is a very different kind of separation. When I was told that they intend to leave, I was both sad and happy. I was sad because I hated to lose good people, I was happy because they were going to very good places.
After getting over my surprised, I sat down and planned for their leaving. Israel has a month notice requirement, so we had the time to do things properly. I was careful to check (very gently) whatever this is a reversible decision and once I confirmed that they had made the decision, I carried on with that.
My explicit goals for that time were:
- Make sure that they are leaving on good terms and great spirits.
- Ensure proper handoff of their current tasks.
- Provide guidance about current and past tasks.
- Map area of responsibilities and make sure that they are covered after they are gone.
The last three, I believe, are pretty common goals when people are leaving, but the most important piece was the first one. What does this mean?
I wrote each of them a recommendation letter. Note that they both already had accepted positions elsewhere at that time, so it wasn’t something they needed. It is something that they might be able to make use of in the future, and it was something that I wanted to do, formally, as an appreciation for their work and skills.
As an aside, I have an open invitation to my team. I’ll provide both recommendation letters and serve as a reference in any job search they have, while they are working for us. I sometimes get CVs from candidates that explicitly note: “sensitive, current employer isn’t aware”. I don’t want to be the kind of place that you have to hide from.
We also threw each of them a going away party, with the entire company stopping everything and going somewhere to celebrate.
I did that for several reasons. First, each of them, in very different ways, contributed significantly to RavenDB. It was a joy to work with them, I don’t see any reason why it shouldn’t be a joy to see them go. I can certainly say that not saying goodbye properly would have created a bad taste for the entire thing, and that is something that I don’t want.
Second, and a bit more cold minded, I want to leave the door open to have them come back again. After so much time in the company, the amount of knowledge that they have in their head is a shame to lose for good. But even if they never come back, that is still a net benefit, because…
Third, there is the saying about “if you love someone, let them go…”. I think that a really good way to make people want to leave is to make it hard to do so. By making the separation easy and cordial, the people who stay know that they don’t need to fear or worry about things if they want to see what else is available for them.
The last few statements came out a bit colder than I intended them to be, but I can’t really think about a good way to phrase the intention that would sound like that. I don’t like that these people left, and I would much rather have them stay. But I started out from the assuming that they are going to leave, and the goal is to make the best out of that.
I was careful to not apply any pressure on them to stay regardless. In fact, in one case, I upfront apologized to the person on the way out, saying: “I want you to know that I’m not pressuring you to stay not because I want you to go, but because I respect your decision to leave and don’t want to make it awkward”.
Fourth, and coming back to the what I want to have as a value for the company, is the idea that I wouldn’t mind at all to be a place where people retire from. In fact, I decidedly want that to be the case. And we do a lot of work to ensure that we are the kind of place that you can be at for long period of times (investing in our people, working on cool stuff, ensuring that grunt work is shared and minimized, etc). However, I would also take great pride in being the place that would be a launching pad to people’s careers.
In closing, people are going to leave. If it is because of something that you can control, that should be a warning sign and something that you should look at to see if you can do better. If it is out of your hands, you should accept it as given and make the best of it.
I was very sad to see them go, and I wish them all the best in their future endeavors.