Recruitment

Losing talent is good, if you know why

Failure is part of life. So is losing talent. And both are great ways to learn. So let’s have better conversations about it and make the most of that learning. Here’s how we do it.

December 3, 2020
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5
min. read
Illustration by Signe Valentin Andersen
There'e one thing that Alex' will really miss leaving behind. Sadly it's not me.

One of our developers just quit after 7 months. Not because he got an offer too good to refuse elsewhere, but because he realised that Platypus wasn’t the right place for him. And we make a tool for assessing alignment between candidates and organisations. This is in no way a win. But it is very much worth talking about. Here’s why. 

These past couple of months we’ve been using stories of how people were recruited at Platypus to share our best tips on building teams. And if you’ve had the chance to watch some of the videos you know that they are a pretty genuine look into who we are and how we recruit

They’re also fun and light-hearted simply because they tell the story of a happy event and have the drama of a rom-com: the meet-cute, the suspense, and the happy ending. 

In the middle of making these recruitment videos, we had our very first resignation. 

If recruitment is like dating, resignations have all the awkwardness of a break-up. They come with potential hurt and the feeling of failure or let down on behalf of the organisation, managers, or colleagues – or the person who quit. And it's certainly easier not to get into all those things that make us uncomfortable because they’re the opposite of material for success stories or something that makes us feel good about ourselves. 

We’re trained to see rejection as a rejection of us and an indication of lesser worth. And why should you advertise being discarded?  

The most frequent LinkedIn update is the “new role” or “new team member” announcement. And on the employee side, this often comes with a nod and a farewell to the organisation and people they’re leaving behind. Organisations on the other hand rarely give their employees a public send-off, because how can that be a good or relevant story? 

We need to let go of the taboo of losing talent. We need to let go of the assumptions that uphold that taboo: That people moving on is in some way a failure, reflecting badly on your organisation, or that ideally you should be so awesome that you can attract and keep any talent in the world. None of this is any more than an ego-play.

Why is it important to be more upfront about people leaving? 

We learn more from the people who leave, than from the people who join

A resignation shouldn’t be treated as a quantitative statement: as one negative vote. It’s qualitative feedback. It has relevance because of its depth and you miss out on a lot if you reduce hiring to successes and resignations to failures. 

The most important thing about Alex leaving is his why

Alexandru came to us from his first job out of university. He worked with a medium-sized tech-company and wanted to learn new things. Trying out a startup seemed like the right play. 

When Alex was interviewing with us he naturally did his Platypus Print, so we knew that the top-priorities in his work-life right now were learning, flexibility, and compensation. We were able to dive directly into a conversation about what he could expect at Platypus and be straight up about what he couldn’t expect. We talked a LOT about what he would be learning and what he would be tasked with, being part of a two-person backend division. 

He ultimately left us because he realised he needed more peers to spar with. He needed a bigger team of specialised backenders, speaking the same language as him who could help him go even deeper in his knowledge. He realised that at this stage in his career, he wanted to invest the maximum in specialisation. 

What did we learn from his decision? 

We learned about nuances in what learning means. We learned that we offer a great learning environment if you thrive with independence, tons of impact, and building something from scratch. Making mistakes along the way, fumbling and guessing your way forward, but growing from it all. And rather than diving deep into specialisation, you will learn by growing on multiple fronts. At this time in his career, this was not what Alex needed the most. 

It is what it is.

We also learned that he was extremely happy with the culture, the people, and everyday life at Platypus. We didn’t scare him off! We just couldn’t tick all of his boxes. 

But one really important learning has been that while we couldn’t predict exactly what kind of learning environment Alex would be needing, at the end of the day, it was the one thing we had spent the most time talking about when he was hired, his top-priority, that determined his decision to leave. 

Meaning: We were talking about the right things. We were monitoring the right things. We were scoring very high on things that were “nice” for him to have. But his decision came back to that one thing that he really, really cared about. 

Which leads me to my next point: 

We need to be as good as possible at finding the right match - not try to make hiring fool-proof

Should we not have predicted that the learning environment would become an issue for Alex? Especially when we’re in business to measure cultural alignment!? 

No. 

Because hiring will never be fool-proof. We are not dealing in abstract numbers but in human lives that change all of the time. 

Life circumstances change, priorities change and we have new learnings about ourselves that change our perspectives. 

We were addressing the right subject, but we didn’t have all of the right questions. But even with the right questions in hand, Alex didn’t know everything himself. He didn’t know that it was this specific feature of learning that he really needed. And that margin of error needs to be acknowledged. 

I’m really happy that we had that topic, that shared language, all the way through. It helped Alex pinpoint what really mattered to him and helped us get a deeper understanding of why he was leaving. And it helped us rest in the knowledge that what he needed was not something we could or would change. That made for a happy divorce.  

Putting effort into finding the right match should never just be about preventing people from leaving. It should be about making this very personal move – taking a job – the right decision for both parties and something the candidate will thrive in. 

We put effort into having more meaningful conversations, knowing people better, and knowing what is in fact important for them. And we do so because the end-goal is to figure out if we’re right for the people working with us, for a time in their lives when we can give them what they need. And vice versa.

Conclusions

We should talk about the exit-stories of employees because we need to change a lot of conversations. 

We need to change the idea of success/failure, the glossed-over employer branding, the idea that both employees and organisations can be either “right” or “wrong” - but most of all we need to focus our attention on being right for each other and place this at the center of our recruitment efforts. 

This is what I suggest: 

  • Have a genuine conversation about what was good, what was bad, what we can learn. 
  • Address the perceived failure of losing people. It’s not. And it’s counterproductive to keep on pushing that narrative by showing it under the carpet. (Elsa said it best: Let it go!)
  • Accept that life circumstances change, that people will only stay on for as long as it is meaningful for them. Making sure that it is good while it lasts should be the ultimate goal. 
Written by
Nico
Blier-Silvestri