Once someone has made up their mind to leave for a new job - once it's final and there is no convincing them otherwise - it is time to celebrate.
Yes, every time.
People leave jobs all the time. It is one of the great things about the USA: our freedom to take our talents where we like for the best or most benefit. And that system works best when people feel confident and mobile in their careers.
This doesn't make it any less painful for the company that loses an employee. Often, this is very inconvenient and can feel scary.
Of course, if you are working hard to build trust you will get the opportunity with some people to intervene early, but even then, things are going to happen, people will be headhunted, and you will have instances of the grass looking greener. People will leave.
When they do it is time to celebrate their accomplishments, both individual and team based, and to wish them well. Not just on the surface, not just as lip service, but also honestly and with the joy of seeing people succeed and move on.
My path to this realization has been long. It isn't that I wished people ill or got angry. I always tried to be supportive, but inside I was often full of fear - this person was key to an account or integral to a project, how will we succeed without them.
But really, what else can be done? Holding on to resentment isn't helpful. They're going to leave anyway. This is a thing to celebrate and I believe that regardless of the circumstances celebrating is appropriate.
It was a sales manager that I worked with that really made me see this. He finally had to say to me, "You're hanging on every person who leaves with a lot of stress. What if you celebrated all of them instead? We should be happy that they have grown and can be successful. We need to let them go."
It went against a lot of years of fighting to keep everyone all the time, but I came around. Here are my reasons why:
Show your employees that you care about their long term success. By celebrating each person who leaves you show them, publicly, that you don't harbor any hard feelings toward someone.
Make it easy for people to come back - when someone goes and you celebrate you build up good feelings that make them think of you when they are looking again (it may be sooner than they think).
Build team resilience - if the team sees that you are celebrating the departure because it is a natural part of life, they will move more easily through the change making them and the company more resilient. Being in resistance to the change will not make it easier and it won't stop it from happening.
Move more freely to the solution - once you stop resisting that it is happening you can think about what to do in the short term and long term.
This is challenging. As I've written in the past, you can't expect everyone to move as quickly in their response to change as you can. As a leader you're likely more adaptable and more experienced with change.
This is especially true when people are leaving. Be sure to include time in your celebration for the sadness people feel - let the celebration be part of the process of moving on. But don't let the sadness overwhelm or define the event.
In this case, you may need to push yourself as a leader and a manager - maybe you need to move through the curve even a little faster than you're comfortable with. Use it as an opportunity to grow. Say goodbye and stay in touch with people, they may have opportunities for you in the future.
Build the best work place you can, build culture, work to retain people, work extra hard for the superstars. Do all that. But eventually some will go. Take a deep breath, you did everything you could, time to celebrate as they move on to the next adventure.
For those unfamiliar with the acronym, VUCA stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity.
It is a relatively trendy way to describe our modern world. It is a VUCA place.
Of course, the world has always been three of those things - volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous, and maybe all four depending on who you ask. If you asked a farmer at any time over recorded history he could tell you that his fortunes and those of his family were impacted by things out of his control. The world of most people has always been, at least, V, U, and A.
It is only recently, where we came to think of the world as NOT those three things. i.e. We could expect a certain amount of regularity, certainty, and definitiveness. But alas (or maybe not), no more.
As the pace of knowledge creation, globalization, and business speeds up we are more exposed to VUCA and we must develop ways to prepare for and manage the world.
It helps if we realize that this is a state of affairs that we evolved to deal with - the acronym may be new, but the conditions really aren't. We humans evolved to meet these types of challenges, are brains are big and we can handle the related stress, assuming we put some time and energy into it.
As for complexity, I think humans have introduced a lot more of that recently, but I also believe we have the tools to manage that.
If you're looking for somewhere to start - use the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People you can cut down by a lot of VUCA simply by focusing on what is in your power to control. Eventually you will get more power, simply by not trying to change that which you can't. Steven Covey covers that much better than I can. If you haven't read it, read it. If you read it and forgot, read it again.
There are other books that deal with this subject head on, such as Dr. Alan Watkins' 4D Leadership. In that book Dr. Watkins outlines paths to personal development that make us more resilient and more capable to deal with all the V, U, C, and A that we run into.
Beyond that though, what other tools are available to help us cope with the VUCA-ness of our present world?
I'm a firm believer that art - engaging with it, thinking about it, looking at it, trying to understand it - makes us more tolerant of the VUCA world.
Here is how art helps with each of the 4 areas:
Volatility - Engaging with art a little bit every day can take you out of your comfort zone on multiple fronts and help to prepare you mentally for all those volatile challenges that you are going to face. Art itself can be volatile - as it relates to traditions or other art. And it can show us ways of grappling with volatility, such as French painters in the 19th century beginning to look at the urban landscape and explore outside the 'approved' arenas for artwork. Much of modern art is challenging and a great many people simply ignore or disregard it because it may be non-representational. Do they take the time to think about it? Do they consider why the artist wanted to challenge us as viewers?
Uncertainty - art is a means of digesting and facing the challenges of the world and allowing you to see how others wrestle with things. Don't want to think about war or crime or poverty or disease? Here it comes anyway. art exposes you quite directly to another mind. That mind may be wrestling with or interested in the same things as you, but doing so in very different ways. Reading a poem written by another person or looking at a painting can help to expose you to different angles and you will not always know what is coming. Also, because the artist is not providing you with a written set of instructions, you walk into every artistic experience with a certain degree of uncertainty that is instructive if you are willing to open up to it.
Complex - Art can deal with complex topics and it can be, in and of itself, quite complex. Re-reading or extended observation is often key. To really appreciate, sometimes, frankly, to understand, you need to spend some time to appreciate the art, maybe do some additional research on the subject matter. This is helpful to get us ready to ask questions and understand the complex systems and situations we confront. Move beyond your first impressions, move beyond your initial read. Re-evaluate, think, engage.
Ambiguous - Some art may attempt to get a hold of a subject and tie it down for explanation, but most art rarely does this. We are given the artist's point of view, but that point of view can be ambiguous. Even when it isn't ambiguous, our own reaction may be. Self-reflection and self-evaluation help us to grapple with such ambiguity. Do I agree with this? Would I have written it this way? Does this help?
This is not how art or art appreciation is taught, but it is how I have used it and I have found it useful.
At times, with the best work that you encounter, you can find an antidote to all this VUCA-ness. A well written book or poem that speaks to you deeply can make the world seem suddenly clear and not ambigous at all. Great art can lift you up and offer you new ways of seeing things. You won't find this all the time or in every interaction, but when you do it is a powerful and uplifting.
Even when you don't encounter this feeling, you can still improve your faculties and increase your mental resilience by engaging with and thinking about a difficult topic.
A few resources worth considering:
Look around - nearly everywhere you go has some artwork on display: photogrpahs, paintings, sculpture. Take some time to look at this stuff and think about it. Take a notebook with you, write things down.
Review You High School/College Syllabus - was there a book that you hated? Why did you hate it? Read it again as an adult and see if there is wisdom there that you overlooked.
Poetry Dail - I'm partial to Poetry Daily. They publish and re-publish the best of contemporary poetry. With a new, very good poem every day. It is worth the time, and it is always there, offering something new and challenging.
Not every piece of art will speak to you. Not every book will help. But every artwork can be turned around in the mind and examined for the resources it provides. If you find none, your mind has spent time engaged in an activity that strengthens it and which can provide you meaning in itself.
You're my manager and a leader in my organization. Could you please:
Understand my Work
Recognize great work when it is done by myself and others
Listen more, ask more questions, talk less
Be willing to have hard conversations (with me and with other leaders), when necessary
Be a defender of positive energy, in all situations
Bring energy and enthusiasm to spare so that you can lift up the whole team, when things are difficult
Help to find solutions in difficult situations
Predict the Future
Create a balanced space where I can be a whole person, but be protected from too many messy impacts from other people
Allow me to innovate and create room for innovation within our organization
Help non-specialists understand my special work and what makes me special
Offer feedback at the right moment - hitting me with constructive criticism when I am walking out of successful meeting takes away from the success of the meeting, find a better time even if you have to wait
Encourage me to stretch
Pick me back up again, when I have failed, encourage me to try again.
I work in technology, so maybe some of this stuff is specific to the tech world, but I don't really think so.
I have been asked for number 8 on multiple occasions, and I've also been asked to help people get better at predicting the future. We came up with a system for it, but of course it was imperfect.
Number 9 may be the hardest one to do. This is more difficult than predicting the future (if you work in a rational organization people will understand that you're doing your best to predict the future and that it is hard).
Even rational organizations may struggle with understanding why we need to let people have rooms to be their whole selves at work.
We need whole people to show up at work because we need their energy and innovation and you get this most effectively when people feel comfortable being who they are. You also have to have some order and some sanitizing and professionalism. This can be a tricky balance. Sometimes people's whole person is messy.
There were several things I deleted off this list that fall under the category of hard conversations.
Setting realistic goals is one of those things. We are often put under pressure to pursue unrealistic goals, a manager needs to push back on the unrealistic and make sure other leaders understand the trade-offs.
Another thing I removed was focus on the long term. Long-term sacrifices in favor of short-term gains are something we should consider carefully. A good manager will daylight the long-term costs and push for what will make his teams lives better in the long run.
Five and Six are different. Defending positive energy may not be a completely positive act. Once the act of defending the positive energy is done, you need to then supply positive uplift to bring everyone back up. The defense and uplift require two different approaches.
Vision is not on the list because this is a list about management.
Almost all leaders are managers, and all managers are leaders in some fashion.
But not all managers are visionary leaders. That skill can be learned, but it isn't required to be a great leader of people.
Is this hard to do? It is very hard to do everything well on this list, but then many things worth doing well are hard.
Providing everything on this list as a team is OK - it may be too much for any one person to do all of it. If you work with a great leadership team it may be that
Even still, you will probably feel a bit like the leader in the picture, at times. That is, isolated. Seeking other managers and leaders with whom you can share your insights and challenges is critical.
You will probably stumble. You will make mistakes. Being resilient isn't on the list, because we all need that in the VUCA world, not just managers.
Managers have to be resilient for others, as well as themselves, that is why we have 14.
I was using a social media tool the other day and it recommended about 25 articles in a row about some electoral politics in a different country.
This was essentially the same story, 25 different times.
I didn't click on any of them because I post very few articles on politics.
So, my lack of engagement with a topic that they thought (for unknown reasons) that I would be interested in should have been considered a significant 'No' vote. I voted 'no' on the same thing, 25 times. This is the way it happened in my head.
Will they be smart enough to pick up on this? Are they aware of the things that I don't do?
We're all aware of the old adage - 'The squeaky wheel gets the grease.'
My squeak, as it were, was pretty significnat. But it was a no action squeak, which would not be measured unless someone was looking for it. And had analytics or code written to look for it.
Of course you'll always see the end result of this - when someone votes with their feet or dollars or clicks to go somewhere else. But will you know why? Or will you only feel their departure?
There are five links on the bottom of the page that will take you to 5 different tutorials, I'm currently on the third, but it is very educational.
In one sense, these aren't for the faint of heart. They are really doing real machine learning, and if you're like me, you won't understand some of it. That's OK.
You need to look past a few things you don't know and just plow ahead they really do give you a great idea of how machine learning actually works.
Unlike the Amazon courses, which don't really require any prerequisites, you probably need some experience with development tools to get through the TensorFlow tutorials. They require that you are comfortable clicking a Play button like you run across in development environments, and sometimes you are kicked back warning messages that you have to look at, stomach, and promptly ignore.
While I've tweaked a couple of print statements to get the notebooks to show me different stuff, I'm really not messing with the core of what the notebooks do. I can generally make sense of it, but I don't have the skill to change the core logic of what these are doing.
I actually very much appreciate the concept of the notebook - it forces documentation into your work in a much more direct kind of way than traditional programming where comments and documentation are often an afterthought. Every example I've come across has had lots of helpful information (they are tutorials) and the text that is presented alongside the code is indispensable.
If you want to know more about machine learning, and you aren't afraid to see how the sausage gets made, it is worth checking it out. Highly educational.