By Sheila Udall
So many people end their time in their employment with a feeling of unfinished business. Supported transitions are usually only offered at a senior level, yet when employers help all their staff to ‘end well’, it benefits every stakeholder. Coaching has a vital role to play in making this happen
In researching what occurs at the end of employment relationships, whether from career progression, redundancy, retirement or being ‘released’, it seems that the fear of ‘getting it wrong’ produces such a strong focus on legal or HR policy needs, that it excludes the possibility of really ‘ending well’ – professionally, effectively and healthily – for all stakeholders.
A few executives get career coaching when they leave, but ‘ending well’ coaching could play a much greater role in enabling individuals, teams and organisations to manage the transition to new beginnings much more effectively – and positively.
Here are three possible scenarios (names have been changed).
Some years ago I visited a small, very successful engineering company to find the general manager panicking because “Fred is retiring”.
The manager continued: “We rely on Fred to schedule all production and we have just realised that he is the only person who knows how he does it.”
Fred used all his knowledge and experience to make daily decisions that kept the factory running and profitable.
Today, most organisations will have computerised such systems, but they rarely accommodate the ‘fine tuning’ that comes from experience. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, how much technical expertise, understanding of the customer base and business knowhow is held in the heads of people when they retire? How could it be captured and used before they leave?
With the relentless drive for efficiencies, the norm is to offer redundancy first to the most expensive (and therefore most experienced) employees.
Jane was a long-term staff member of a subsidiary of a parent company that wanted to downsize, losing more than half the management roles at her level. However, no manager could replace her and none of the team had her depth of project management expertise. The team were not only leaderless, but had a greater workload and insufficient resources to meet their targets, let alone work to their full potential.
If three senior professionals, aged 55, leave a department at the same time, about 100 years of expertise disappears at a stroke. How, then, can morale and productivity be sustained? What happens to the corporate memory? How can young/inexperienced people quickly learn the nuances of how the organisation really functions?
People are dismissed for many reasons – from misconduct and unacceptable performance to personal differences or the incoming executive wanting to create their own team.
Chris was one such client who, within minutes of being told he was ‘being released’, was escorted off the premises and put on garden leave, unable to say goodbye to colleagues or finish work.
This approach, under the banner of protecting corporate sensitivities, can be so severe that people previously seen as good employees feel not only badly treated, but also totally misjudged.
What impact does this have on those left who often fear they will be next? And on the organisation’s reputation?
Make it work
Bridges’ work on Transitions can help us understand good endings. It identifies a three-stage process that takes us from ending (letting go), through a neutral zone to a new beginning. He points out that even though all of us experience many endings in our lives, they are often handled very poorly, making it harder to have successful new beginnings.
Coaching at the end of a working relationship could enable those leaving and staying to move on ‘well’.
Coaching can help people who are facing retirement (but not ready to stop completely), take stock of their talents, skills and ambitions, clarify and develop new goals, and so have a good transition to new beginnings.
Coaching can support people who have been made redundant to reconnect with their sense of worth and develop the confidence to get back to work. This may include honing their skills in writing a CV or application, or preparing for interviews.
For someone released ‘badly’, coaching can help them let go of a traumatic experience and move on.
Coaching (or mentoring) younger colleagues not only gives people approaching retirement the chance to feel valued, it means their knowledge and experience is not lost.
Coaching can help managers develop the awareness, skills and confidence to have positive, albeit difficult, conversations with those leaving.
Coaching can also support teams making the transition from losing a manager or key member to new working arrangements, for example, helping individuals take a new role or the team refocus after the loss.
Coaches beware of colluding with:
the assumption that it is not worth investing in managing endings well. A bad ending will not only close the door to a possible return (if circumstances change), but affect the organisation’s reputation as a good employer
managers who rely on HR or colleagues to manage difficult conversations instead of finding the skills and motivation to do it themselves
a ‘just have to cope’ culture associated with cutbacks, when coaching could significantly increase the morale and engagement needed to survive and thrive in tough times.
Remember to challenge senior leaders to consider the cost to their reputation and longer term business success of not ‘ending well’. n
In Part 2, we will look at how to end coaching relationships well.
Sheila Udall is a coach, facilitator and consultant. She is researching and writing a book about the conditions that contribute to ‘ending well’. email@example.com
W Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes, Da Capo Press, 2004
S Udall & S Szaroleta, ‘Are you wasting or using talent? (How to survive and thrive by becoming talent rich)’, in Business Leadership Review, April 2010
Ed Batista, ‘The way