Transitioning From One Job To Another

Mark Suster just keeps putting out great stuff on his blog. Last night he posted about the tricky issue of transitioning from one job to another. Mark writes the post from the perspective of the entrepreneur/executive hiring someone who is currently working for another company. I love this part:

I operate on the principal that you’re most vulnerable in any deal immediately after you’ve won.  I believe the same is true in recruiting.  So your goal is to get the employee working in your company as quickly as possible and with the least amount of collateral damage.

That is exactly the right tack to be taking if you are the person on the hiring end of the situation. I highly recommend reading Mark's post because he provides some great advice to the hiring company.

But there are three parties to these situations; the employee, the current employer, and the future employer. I'd like to talk about all three and how each should behave.

First, I think it is important to recognize that most of the time you'll want to hire someone who is currently working for another company. There are times when you can hire someone who is unemployed or is doing consulting work (which is often the same thing as being unemployed). But most of the time, you'll find yourself in the situation of hiring someone who is currently employed by someone else.

Let's start with the employee. If you plan to leave the company you are currently working for and are actively searching for a new position, I think it is best to do your search out in the open with the knowledge of your employer. That allows your current employer to plan for your departure and allows you to do your job search out in the open. Many employees worry that if they disclose their intention to leave, they'll be fired. That does happen and is a reasonable concern. But more often, the employer appreciates the notice and rewards the employee giving notice with an extended transition period. That's the ideal scenario.

But not every person who leaves a company was looking to leave. It's very common in the tech startup world to approach employees who are happy in their current jobs with an opportunity that is simply better. And then they decide to leave and there is a tricky transition situation.

Mark advises the hiring company to push for the employee to leave quickly. But I have found myself on the opposite side of this situation, in a small startup with a key employee leaving who is being pressured to leave quickly. And of course, in that situation the company who is losing the key person wants them to stay for the longest transition possible.

The problem with the long transition for the key employee is that it often takes two to three months to find a replacement for a key employee. And it is generally not reasonable to ask an employee to stick around for a two to three month transition.

One option is the "battlefield promotion" of someone else on the team to assume the job of the person who is leaving. If you can do that promotion permanently, then it is a good option. If you plan to do the promotion temporarily, it can be problematic. Once promoted, many people bristle at going back to their old role and working for someone new. 

Losing a key employee in a small company is really one of the most difficult situations you'll have to deal with as an entrepreneur/startup executive. One thing I do not recommend is trying to retain the person who is leaving. If they've shown the willingness or desire to leave, you have to let them go. There is no such thing as indentured servitude in startup land and when someone shows that they are mentally out, they should not stick around except to insure a smooth transition.

So to summarize, if you are the employee, it is best to give as much notice as you can comfortably give to your current employer without putting yourself in a vulnerable position. If you are the hiring company, you want to get the new employee onboard as quickly as possible, but don't put the person you are hiring in an awkward and damaging position. And if you are the company losing the employee, get a reasonable transition time, find some way to manage without the person, and don't try to keep them once they've shown a desire to leave.

For all three parties, if you are struggling with this issue, reach out and get advice. You aren't the first person to go through this situation. It happens all the time and others who have lived through it can help you deal.