I have long been fascinated by the universal ceremonies and rituals that have grown up around the need to welcome new members into a group and to say goodbye when members leave. Almost every culture on earth seems to have some variation of these ceremonies suggesting their fundamental importance to human kind.
Managers face numerous arrivals and departures among their subordinates over time. Some managers all but ignore their importance. The best managers, however, make every effort to accommodate the underlying human needs on both occasions because they recognize the importance of doing so to the cohesiveness and morale of their work team.
ARRIVALS When we are newly arrived in a group, there is an inevitable period of discomfort. We are new, all eyes seem upon us, we often believe we have something to prove, and it takes time to develop any real sense of belonging. Moreover at work, it will generally take time until we will become as productive as our new colleagues.
The best managers are skilled at helping new employees navigate this adjustment process as quickly as possible. They insure a thorough orientation to the organization, make the appropriate introductions, assign mentors to provide adjustment tips and work related guidance, and check in regularly to monitor progress. Their involvement is personal, not something they delegate to others; they are mindful that they will eventually need to provide some performance evaluation to these individuals.
Looked at from a management perspective, it is important that new arrivals quickly absorb the organization’s core behavioral values and the performance expectations and evaluation criteria for their specific jobs. Understanding both with clarity enhances one’s sense of belonging. It is also essential to a rapid adjustment to a new environment and to long-term quality performance. The best managers do not consider the arrival process complete until they are confident both understandings have been achieved.
DEPARTURES Leaving a work team, has significant psychological import for both the departed and for the colleagues left behind. While the circumstances of one’s leaving certainly make a difference, there is an inevitable impact that the best managers do not ignore.
Some years ago, Psychologist Harry Levinson reminded us during a seminar I was attending “that all change involves loss and all loss must be mourned”. A workplace departure represents change for all involved and consequently the challenge of letting go and moving on.
Other than a firing, it is important for most individuals who are departing a work team to feel that he or she has made a contribution while there, that the contribution has been appreciated by colleagues and management, and that they will be missed when gone. Activities and events that communicate these expressions and feelings mean a great deal to most of us.
For those left behind, expressing some sense of loss represents a form of letting go and lays the ground work for accepting a stranger that soon may be selected and arrive to fill the departed’s place. And thus the cycle goes on.
The best managers are as attentive to the emotional needs of departures as they are to arrivals. In many cases this also involves acknowledging their own feelings, especially when the departing subordinate is someone they wish would have, or could have, stayed. This exercise in self-management sometimes involves feelings of anger, loss of control, and a sense of disloyalty that must be overcome if you are to sincerely wish the subordinate well on their new venture.
There is a school of management thinking that considers the emotional, empathetic, and feeling elements involved in these welcoming and goodbye activities as the SOFT STUFF best left to others. Their job, they believe, is making the numbers or pushing the product out the door. The best managers, however, understand that everything is always about people, that there is no such thing as the hard and soft stuff, just human stuff, and that a cohesive and talented work team whose work-related and human needs are respected and met by their managers is the real secret to great numbers and high quality product out the door.