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  • Writer's pictureBethany Crystal

Honoring the work of departing employees

How you say goodbye Transitions are impossibly hard. Senior level role transitions, even more so. But they happen all the time. In an annual survey that we sent to employees across USV portfolio companies last year, we found that 80% of companies in our network had experienced some transition in leadership at the executive level in the previous calendar year. That's right: 8 in 10 startups went through some sort of leadership change in one year. On the one hand, this might seem like a lot of transition for fast-growing organizations, something that might only add to feelings of instability or uncertainty. On the other hand, the idea of "scaling up" to find new people who are custom-fitted for a later stage of a company's growth makes a lot of sense. Of course, this doesn't make transitions any easier. Particularly when the person in question was beloved by the rest of the company. So this begs the question: As a leader, how do you say goodbye to employees who are on their way out of the organization? To me, this feels like one of the most pivotal moments to establish one's stance as a leader.  And it likely leaves you with a lot of questions to answer: How do you introduce the new person? How do you thank the outgoing person? Do you celebrate their wins publicly and thank them for their service? Or do you slowly phase them out, avoiding any unnecessary attention? Whatever behavior you model is magnified and multiplied by the rest of the organization. All eyes are on you. And every interaction will be captured and catalogued by the rest of the group. It doesn't matter whether this type of announcement happens in person (like the hypothetical all-hands meeting with Susie and Trish), via email, or in a smaller meeting of department heads. From that point on, everyone else will be laser focused on how you refer to the departing employee -- from the way you refer to them when new people ask a question to the way you acknowledge or dismiss the work they did in a casual Slack chat. In times of change management or transition like this, every moment matters. As a leader making the call, it just might come to define how you're perceived by others for a very long time to come.

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