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When was the last time someone left your organization? If you have a mid-sized or large organization, it was probably yesterday. How did that go? Many organizations have extensive onboarding processes, but when it comes to separations, it's another story. When I talk with HR leaders, off-boarding is often the process most ignored.

Lack of an off-boarding process can have a serious impact on an organization. For example, when people leave, they often communicate their experience on social media. What they communicate can detract from your employment brand making it more difficult and expensive to recruit top talent. Also, when your employees see how you treat those who are leaving, it impacts their view of the organization and their level of engagement.

Off-boarding is a process that needs to be strategically planned. Ken Finneran, CHRO at National Beverage Corp. says, “It used to be that we conducted a nice exit interview and acted on the information. Now, we must also maintain a separate social network, have [former employees] opt in to communications, and invite them to our events to keep them engaged." Creating, for example, a LinkedIn group that alumni of your organization can join can be some work to administer and maintain. However, it can pay dividends by keeping in touch with those who may promote your organization and encourage others to join.

In creating your off-boarding process, take into account two different circumstances in which people leave: 1) People are asked to leave (involuntary separations), or 2) People decide to leave on their own (voluntary separations). With involuntary separations, you will want to have a process that takes into account the likelihood that the person may have negative feelings towards the organization. With voluntary separations, you will have a different process—one that does more to maintain and leverage the relationship.

Regardless of the circumstances, there are three phases of separation: 1) after notice, 2) the day they leave, and 3) after they leave. An effective off-boarding process will not only take into account the circumstance, but will be structured with specific activities for each phase. Here are five things to consider as your build an off-boarding plan.

Be Proactive

When people leave, they often think they are leaving everything behind and moving on to something else. This doesn't have to be the case. You can ensure your process lets them know early on (ideally as soon as the “notice" happens) that you want to maintain a relationship with them. Let them know how you plan to do this (e.g., alumni portal, invitations to informal organizational events, etc.) and why. Treating people who are leaving as well as those who are staying sends a positive message to them as well as their peers remaining in the organization.

Leverage Technology

There are many tools that can help automate the process. This is important for a number of reasons. First, when the process is automated, it will be more likely that each step is followed and nothing is missed. Second, it can free up the time of your staff for more strategically important tasks. And third, it makes your organization appear more professional and competent. Also, keep in mind that each software system has it's own functionality and way of working. It's much easier to design your process around the software than the software around your process.

Track Important Metrics

Deciding which metrics to track can have wide-reaching implications on many HR processes. For example, you may decide to track the number of former employees who stay in touch with your organization through events and newsletters, and perhaps even more impactful, the number of employees who return. This will give you insight into the effectiveness of your off-boarding process. You may also want to create and administer a survey asking former employees about their views of the off-boarding process and the organization. This will give you insight into improvements you can make.

Ensure Knowledge is Transferred

An effective off-boarding process ensures that information on processes, relationships and best practices is passed on from the employee who is leaving to the current workforce. In off-boarding, you will want to ensure that critical knowledge is shared and new skills are taught to existing workers in order to assuage the departure of a team member. This often includes working with the co-workers and leaders of the person leaving.

Be Consistent

When some people leave, it may be tempting to make exceptions and give them special treatment. Even though we may have the best of intentions, these inconsistencies can lead to problems—for example, you can't throw a going-away party for Jane and do nothing for Bob, unless it's clear why. (Was Jane at the company for 5 years or more? Was Bob brand new?) Existing employees will see this and not have faith in the process, or your fair treatment of workers. To avoid this, make sure you have a standardized process on acknowledging the departure that HR and all leaders know and can execute.

Having a standard and well thought out off-boarding process should be a priority for every HR leader. By doing this, you ensure that you have more trusted resources for referrals, information on the community and your organization, build your employment brand and send a positive message to your employees.

Photo: Creative Commons