April 16, 2021

Crown of the Barrel – How to Manage Departing Talent

Written by Lisa Jaster

Think of your time at an organization as the barrel of a gun. The tip of the barrel is called the crown. The barrel can be perfectly rifled, but if the crown’s shape, alignment, and condition are suspect, it can throw the whole trajectory off. The “crown” of our professional experiences is what happens the last few days and sometimes minutes before permanently departing an organization.

How you treat an employee that has decided, either by choice or not, to leave can impact whether your organization is hitting its target or is putting unpredictable rounds out into the workforce. Both significantly impact the way others look at your organization.

Do You Recognize Your People’s Efforts?

Someone who joined the military knows we rotate from unit to unit frequently. Depending on your skill set, you could be moving every three to four years. If you’ve given your all to your team and added value during your tour by being a high-performer, you usually receive an award and are recognized in some public forum. If you do not add value, the leadership will often choose to acknowledge the time you spent with the team in more creative ways.

I had one Soldier leave who caused nothing but trouble, so we built him an award from old trophies adding an engraving outlining all the times he got in trouble. He loved it and still stays in touch with guys from our unit.

I left a position in my reserve career where I got a sticky note attached to my award from the Soldier who processed it. I only spent a year in that job, but I gave up a lot to do well for the unit. I enjoyed my time in that position and felt like I grew a lot while adding value to the team.

After my departure was treated like an afterthought, I didn’t have the same positive feelings about the unit or the people I worked for. I didn’t think my time deserved an award, but a note or a phone call from the command would have gone a long way. I think the award was to make up for neglecting to acknowledge my contributions promptly. Instead of making up for the bitter taste in my mouth, it made it worse. 

Provide An Exit Interview

The same thing happens in corporate America, but managers need to be even more aware of treating departing employees because the professional space is small. The reach of social media is far and wide.

I had to fire an employee last year right before the holidays. Within a few months, that former employee was recommending our organization to other firms.

How do you think he feels about his time with our organization? What if I was less sensitive when letting him go and spent those last few minutes with him explaining the negatives of his employment? What if the departing talent is genuinely bitter and angry as they hand in their computer and keys on their final day? Is there a way to manage that?

Companies have tools to help with that too – exit interviews, or an email stating that we are sad to see the employee go but wish them luck in their next position. A simple box of doughnuts in the break room or coffee with co-workers goes a long way to smooth the exit point.

Ensure Both Parts Are On the Same Page

No one wants to work hard at the range just to let a ding in the crown of the barrel ruin a hunting trip. In the same fashion, how you choose to send off a person tells the departing talent how much you appreciated their contribution, which doesn’t always have to include rave reviews.

Simple, sincere, and timely recognition at the end of a professional journey/relationship right can make or break a company’s reputation or the ability to work with someone in the future. 

Avoid These Firing Mistakes

  1. Do not let them hear the news from someone else: Communication failures happen, but you should remain cautious when the news might affect another person’s livelihood.
  2.  Do not be insensitive: If I were insensitive to the person I had to fire right before the holidays, that employee would have reacted differently.
  3.  Be transparent: Do not try to divert from the actual reasons the employee needs to depart. Be direct and honest, which will favor both sides.

Letting someone go is never easy, but the experience and delivery of it us up to you- the leader of the organization. Taking the time to prepare and effectively communicate your reasonings go a long way, and at the end of the day, is part of your organization’s culture too. 

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Lisa Jaster graduated from the West Point Academy with a BS in Civil Engineering and was commissioned as an active duty engineer officer. During 2003, Lisa deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a company executive officer, later serving as the battalion operations construction officer. She attended the Army Engineer Officer Advanced Course at Fort Leonard Wood, MO, and earned her MS in Civil Engineering from the University of Missouri-Rolla in 2004. After leaving the Active Army, Lisa was employed by Shell Oil Company for 12 years. From April to October 2015, she took a six-month leave of absence and attended Army Ranger School, being one of three females that graduated from the first integrated Ranger School course. Lisa is married to a fellow reserve officer and has two children. She lives an active lifestyle competing in anything from ultra trail runs to CrossFit competitions. She loves martial arts training, specifically Jiu-Jitsu, and is always looking for the next challenge to tackle.

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