On the 8th January 2020 Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, sent the world into a meltdown by announcing their decision on Instagram to “step back as ‘senior’ members of the Royal Family.
And thus, Megxit was born.
Within hours of the announcement #Megxit was trending on Twitter and by the 9th of January it had its very own Wikipedia page.
The news has divided not only the nation, but people across the globe. But whether you are #teamsussex or not, there is one thing I think most people will agree on. The management of this very high-profile resignation has been a bit of a public relations nightmare.
The way that companies handle senior resignations is always going to be a sensitive area to navigate, with every company and situation requiring a tailored approach depending on the circumstances. However, there are certain steps you can take to minimise disruption.
Here are our top tips to avoiding a Megxit of your own…
1. Agree a communication plan
Probably where it all went wrong for Meghan and Harry was the way they delivered their message to the market.
It is important to determine how the news of the departure is going to be communicated to the rest of the company, to clients, shareholders and to the wider industry. When will each stakeholder be told and how will this be best done?
As well as agreeing when and how people will be informed, a clear and consistent message must be agreed by both the company and the resigning employee.
Often employees will be leaving on good terms, so agreeing a message that someone is simply moving on to explore a new challenge is easy enough. Other times, the exit might not be as amicable, so deciding what information to release can be tricky.
It is important to try to put a positive spin on the message no matter what the circumstance are. If it’s really that difficult or the reasons are highly personal, sometimes it’s better just to just stick to the facts and not elaborate on the details.
2. The Exit Interview
Much like the Queen calling for crisis talks at the Sandringham Summit; you must sit down for a meeting with the employee to really understand why they want to leave.
An exit interview is an opportunity to get some good out of a bad situation. People tend to be far more likely to open up on what they really think when they know they are leaving, so use this opportunity to uncover issues in the business which you wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
And then crucially, use this information to make changes for the better and increase employee engagement.
In talking it through you may also find that the reasons for leaving can be solved. Some problems have a clear solution. If it turns out they are leaving because the commute is a nightmare then they may be able to work from home a few days a week, or if the role isn’t challenging enough then you might increase responsibilities or assign them a new project.
Do not make promises if you can’t keep them. This will not only push the employee out of the company in a matter of months, it sends a bad message to your remaining staff.
3. Negotiate terms
When it comes to notice periods, you need to consider whether or not to hold them to what’s in the contract. This comes down to if you have a succession plan in place, what they are currently working on and if you actually want them to stick around.
For employees working on bids or projects, you need to determine when the best time is for them to exit to minimise disruption. Equally, if they are working on a bid, timing is critical as it could impact the outcome; you can’t promise someone will be working on the project if you know they will be leaving once the bid is submitted.
If the employee is privy to sensitive information you will need to consider moving them to different projects while they work out the notice, or in some cases place them on gardening leave.
Alongside notice periods, you will also need to determine how bonuses and long-term incentive plans are dealt with. A lot of companies will have standard procedures when it comes to this, but there may be additional circumstances to take into consideration.
If you want that individual to stay committed to the company for the remainder of their notice period to deliver a specific objective, agreeing to still give them their bonus or a proportion of it can be a good bargaining tool. Or if you just think that they have done an excellent job and feel they deserve the bonus in a show of good faith and thanks.
Bear in mind though that this could set a precedent within the company if not handled correctly.
4. Remind employees of restrictions
When it comes to post termination restrictions you will need to check the employee’s contract to see what was agreed. The employee’s contract may have; a non-poaching covenant, a non-solicitation covenant or a non-compete covenant.
Be sure to remind the employee of these covenants because if they breach them, you can take legal action.
5. Leave on good terms and agree a reference
From the candidate’s perspective, always try to leave on a positive note.
Transport and infrastructure is a very small world and you will encounter these people again in your career. Burning bridges now will almost certainly come back to haunt you. There is every chance that you will find yourself working with your ex-colleagues, as a client or supplier, or even employees or directors joining your future teams.
Leaving on good terms also means you will be able to secure a personal reference from your line manager which will be useful for securing future roles. It’s quite common these days for HR policies to refuse to give out references, so having this assurance from your colleague can make a big difference.
You might not have the sixth in line to the throne announcing their resignation to the world, but your company can definitely learn from ‘The Firm’ (what not to do) when it comes to tackling high profile resignations.
If you’ve found yourself with a senior leadership vacancy that needs filling, please do get in touch to see how we can help you find the best talent in the industry.