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November 27, 2019

7 Steps to Build Offboarding Communication

Good communication is critical in offboarding. There are many conversations to be had and none will be successful if you do not pre-plan how you will execute on them. In my most recent role at Drift, I was continuously learning and two things stuck with me in regard to building successful processes.

1. Keep it simple

2. Use tried and true approaches from the real world

A perfect example of the above is the phone tree from a school. What happens when your child is sick? The teacher brings your child to the nurse, the nurse then contacts the parents in order of preference specified, then informs the teacher on what is happening with the child. Everybody knows what is happening when and where with a relatively simple process.

Using this baseline format of a simple, tried and true approach, I came up with a spreadsheet to help you build your own 7 Step Offboarding Communication TreeThis spreadsheet can then be your template for planning the communication of offboarding going forward.

Do you need to create a custom plan for each employee being offboarded? Certainly not, you can have a baseline version for each team for sure. This way you know that offboarding a developer usually requires X or a salesperson Y, but when it's a critical person, think executive level, manager of a team, long-serving employee, or even a cultural champion, then you should be customizing it for that person in that role.

Here is how you do it: Open this spreadsheet template. Each step below is highlighted in row 3 for you to follow along.

1. First, who needs to know? Given their role, who and what will be affected by them leaving? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Customers - will they be affected, if so, who needs to know in order to take care of them? Do they need to know?
  • Workload - who needs to know to take on their responsibilities and tasks?
  • Direct Teams - will they take on work? Will they have a new manager?
  • Cross-Functional Teams - does this affect other teams they worked with?
  • Other Managers - will other teams need to take on workload or be affected?
  • Close Relationships - yes this is work, but inevitably people become close and a lot of times these people can be severely impacted if not communicated with, who needs to be on this list?
  • Company level - depending on this person’s role, is it necessary and/or appropriate to share with the entire company?
  • Industry-level - does this person’s role have enough of a profile to require sharing beyond just the company?

2. Next, how do you inform all of these teams and people? Once you have written down all of the groups that need to be notified - include a “how” marker to each.

  • Verbally
  • Chat Tool
  • Email
  • Blog Post

3. Then, decide who is responsible to share this information. Choosing the correct person/people to share a message is important because people want to feel comfortable. In a lot of cases, the person closest to the termination is best but in other cases, the person closest to the team they are speaking to is best. Here are a few things to consider when selecting a messenger:

  • Do you expect the audience to ask a lot of questions
  • What level is the employee within the company
  • How will this affect morale
  • Who will the audience feel most comfortable with

The right message coming from the wrong person = equals the wrong message.

4. Then figure out when to assign times to relay each message. Always get a message out quickly. I recommend having general discussions start immediately after the employee has left the building. An extremely important part is also prepping managers prior to the termination so they can share with there teams the day of the exit. This means your communication tree will most likely start prior to the employee's final day.

5. Confirm “What to say”. If you have read my post on “The Communication Gap” I hope you would agree that it is very important to craft the correct message in regards to offboarding someone. Once you have completed step 4, you should record the actual message you want to share with each group. These may look the same or different. For instance, a customer may only need to know that someone is taking over their account while the individual's direct team should know more detail in regards to the actual departure of the team member.

6. Then, prep your communication team. These are not always the easiest things to share with a team, so prepare. Make sure anyone responsible knows the messaging, who and when they are sharing this information.

Tip 1: Practice: Always role-play each of these pieces with those who are sharing the message to make sure delivery is on point. The top thing for them to know is what else can they share other than the message if people ask questions.

7. Follow Up - Make sure to follow up with all of the people who shared these updates and get any feedback or concerns they have after relaying them. This will help you build any sort of follow up meetings with team members as well as keep an eye on anyone who may be more affected than others.

Tip 2: Share the work: The HR lead should be in charge of managing this spreadsheet, but share this with anyone who is responsible for updating teams/customers so they can check off that they have done so. They can include any feedback from the conversations.

Managing an exit is a lot for the point person in HR. Knowing that communication is completed while you are working on other items is a helpful way to streamline the process.

Tip 3: Coordinate for Mindfulness: In an involuntary exit, coordinate the direct manager or next level manager to take closely seated team members into a room to share the news. The key to this is timing. I do this before an employee comes back to there desk to gather their things. This is good for a few reasons. 1. If no one is at the desks near them, it allows the employee to leave easily without people asking them “where are you going” or “are you ok, you look upset”. 2. It allows you as a manager to share the information with your team first.

Tip 4: Consistency is Key: Keep consistent in who you message these changes too. If your philosophy and size allow you to share these updates with the entire company, do that regularly. If you only share these updates to necessary teams, do that regularly. Find something that works best for your company and share that decision with all employees. It is important for your employees to know why this is best for your team so they understand what to expect when employees leave.

In summary, not every termination will have a large communication plan but each should have one that is well thought out and kept simple. Apply these 7 steps for success.


Diana Preziosi is an experienced HR business partner who has made her career in building startups. Follow Diana on Twitter at @DianaPreziosi1.