Offboarding: Help employees move on and stop losing important knowledge

A proper offboarding process should also ensure that good management is put into practice. This sets a number of requirements that management must address. It is about harvesting the potential for improvement that can be found in any employment relationship.

By Poul Langagergaard

By Poul Langagergaard, CEO and partner in Evovia

Onboarding and offboarding are interlinked as a framework for an employment relationship.

Efficient, structured and well-thought-out onboarding of new employees should ensure that the employee feels seen, heard, involved and taken by the hand from day one, thereby getting to contribute much faster to everyday work.

Also, read our blog post 'Help your employees climb Mt. Onboarding'.

A proper offboarding process should also ensure that good management is put into practice. This sets a number of requirements that management must address. It is about harvesting the potential for improvement that can be found in any employment relationship. Therefore, the organisation must make a great deal of getting all the good input that it can from the employee who is leaving the company and then use it for the continuous improvement of the organisation. 


1) When an employee stops – whether voluntary or involuntarily

When an employee quits to seek new challenges, or when, for whatever reason, the company has to terminate an employee, it will be of great value if the management arm itself with patience when looking for and hiring a new person for the vacancy. The management should take some time to find out which profile is needed in the long run. Because the world evolves rapidly – while the surroundings at a specific workplace have a tendency to adapt to the situation and colleagues such as it is at the moment.

See the illustration with the beautiful stones. Let's assume for a moment that they reflect the individual competencies of a department or team. The largest and elongated stone on the right side of the image may illustrate a very strong employee who requires a lot of room. Perhaps even a significant employee who, without wishing to do so, may have hampered the development of the surrounding competencies that have in fact been held back from developing.

If this strong employee is no longer in the workplace, it might be a good idea to wait a bit before advertising the position. Consider doing the tasks with a little temporary help, extraordinary overtime, etc. Because then it often turns out in a way so that some of the surrounding skills quietly begin to fill some of those distinctive gaps that are left by the discontinued employee.

This means that the management has been handed some healthy competence development - as a natural consequence of the fact, that the former significant employee is no longer there. And it also means that management can now start thinking about genuine innovation when defining the future profile and content of the position.

And this is actually the first step that management should consider in an offboarding process: Steady now – it's time to think.


2) High level of information – and good communication

As soon as a decision has been made to say goodbye to an employee, it is very important that management has a high level of information – and not just information but even more importantly, communication. While the management should be in a dialogue with all employees and stakeholders concerning the position and the tasks, the management should also state clearly what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and why?

And in this situation, the management should be very aware of the signals that are sent internally in the organization about an employee who stops, because they also become a part of the employees' storytelling about their own company.


3) Acknowledge and be open about the knowledge less that has to be minimised

No matter if management wants to take it slow and bide its time in order to ensure a better solution for the future when it comes to profile and competences – or if you want to hire a successor immediately – it is very important that management signals openness about the knowledge loss that has to be minimised when an employee leaves.

We have seen some positive outcomes when companies identify critical knowledge loss among all key employees in "peace times" so that it becomes clear how many months it will take to re-establish the knowledge held by each key employee.

This is really just due diligence.

Specifically, you need to put things down in writing in order to document the need for knowledge transfer from the departing employee.


4) A part of offboarding: to turn in and give a receipt for receiving company property

It goes without saying, that the departing employee must return all effects belonging to the company. This could be keys, cards, equipment, etc. There should be a fixed procedure for this, and the responsibility should lie with someone other than the nearest manager. A written receipt is given.

If an onboarding tool was used for this kind of thing when the employee was hired, it should be simple to pull out this onboarding document again to ensure that all relevant factors are part of the offboarding.

If, at the time of resignation, an agreement is reached on, for example, the purchasing of phone or PC, remember to ensure written documentation concerning the price and a clear agreement about which software must be proven to be deleted.

As a matter of course there should also be a fixed procedure for ensuring that the employee loses access to all company systems, mails and user accounts at the very moment of resignation.

In our experience, it is a good idea to set up the mail of the resigned employee as an alias to that of a co-worker to avoid losing important mails and external relations.


5) Offboarding interview – primarily through a questionnaire

All resigned employees are invited to fill out a questionnaire from HR about a week before leaving. If possible and desirable, the answers may be supplemented by a brief talk.

A serious and thorough offboarding dialogue sends a signal of trust and respect that can have a lot of other valuable effects on the other employees in the organisation. For one thing, it may increase the desire to contribute in a constructive, investigative, idea-creating and adjusting manner. And that is good and necessary.

Through the dialogue, we collect a lot of useful knowledge, and collectively we learn how we can make the workplace even better together.

It is recommended that this is not done by the immediate manager but by a neutral body somewhere in the company, e.g. HR.


6) Give recognition to the resigned employee

As management, you should remember that your behaviour – even in the case of resignations – becomes part of the way employees tell about the company to their networks and families.

This is another reason why we recommend that management make a proper farewell and gives due recognition to the employee for the time that they were in the company.

It is also important to remember that Denmark is of a size that makes it probable, that you will meet that person again, so think long-term.

Many larger companies have benefited from maintaining a relationship with resigned employees in knowledge-sharing networks, etc., and if this can be done, it sends a really valuable signal.