People leaving startups
“Is there something I should be worried about?”
Departures in startups feel personal and scary. Employees will ask me whether the business will be affected or if *BAD THING* is happening, but they’re oblivious. After seeing dozens of departures over my tenure as a founder, I’ll share a few thoughts on dealing with them.
Departures are losses, creating real grief that most coworkers must work through. If the startup is smaller than 150 people, Dunbar’s number, every employee will have a personal connection with the person leaving. Unsurprisingly, people go through something like the five stages of grief as they process the news.
At some point, most people will ask leaders for answers during one of the stages. As a leader, I often remain publicly silent on the topic. For good reasons, building a habit of addressing every departure is not useful and fraught with privacy concerns.
However, I understand that a departure is a new and disturbing event for some, so it’s always good to remind yourself of a few principles.
(1) People are the most important element in a company’s success. Do not dismiss this statement as a tired trope. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would happen at a startup if we didn’t have talented people to move things forward.
(2) All leaders care and feel sad when people go. We care more about losing the person and the personal connection we’ve created than the “resource.” Don’t mistake silence for lack of emotions/care.
(3) People leaving a startup is normal and even healthy. Each one of us has personal goals and priorities. We hope these priorities align with Truework’s and my team’s. However, they may diverge over time. Life is unpredictable, and so is tenure at a company.
With one, two, three, or more departures, the brain goes into overdrive to decipher what it means for you or the company. Often, it’s a red herring; the brain loves to see patterns, even when there’s nothing.
Instead of worrying, I encourage everyone to see people’s decisions as individual paths rather than drawing premature conclusions. Choose to celebrate their contributions for each departure. Ask yourself how we can continue their work and make the company more successful. One day you’ll be the one that left. Do you want to leave a trail of rumors and disgruntled people behind?