You’ve finally decided to take the plunge – you’ve sold your business and have planned to exit. Congratulations. This is an exciting time in your life, full of new opportunities. But as excited and as busy as you may be with this new transition, don’t forget that you have one important hurdle left. How do you tell your employees that you are leaving your business? Unfortunately, this could turn into an awkward conversation that can potentially stir up a lot of emotions. Your employees may feel betrayed by your leaving, be fearful of the new owner, or even become worried about their job security. Their concerns are legitimate, and it is your job to take care of your company before you leave it.
As difficult as it may feel to have this conversation, it’s imperative to plan for it and do it well. The best exit conversations include a frank and honest conversation about why you are leaving, how and when you are leaving, the impact of the transition on them, and expresses your confidence in them and the future of the company under new ownership. Most employees will appreciate a transparent conversation and the fact that you are focused on the long term stability and growth of the business and have considered their key concerns.
It might be tempting to paint the picture you want them to believe, but it’s more important to be direct and to be honest. Don’t sugarcoat the tough parts. Don’t let your body language betray you – stay calm and keep eye contact. Being kind and honest will ease breaking the news.
Explain your choices and allow time and space for questions, discussion or even grieving. This could feel like a loss for your employees. Allow them time to work through that. Recognize that for you, this decision has been in process for some time, but for most of your employees, it is new news. They may initially feel angry, confused or worried. Remember that direct, honest and transparent doesn’t mean you need to share everything with them. Answering any questions they may have, either about you or the future of the business, will help to ease the inevitable transition. Knowledge is power, and the more your employees know the more comfortable they will be. That being said, your personal information and details of the sale may be confidential. If you get questions that are confidential, it’s ok to explain that the details of the sale are confidential and then share what you can to address their real concern or question.
Last but not least, do not forget to keep the focus on the future! Your employees and the company will continue without you. It is up to you whether or not they will thrive. Make it a point to tell them what you hope for the business in the future and brainstorm ways they can keep your legacy alive.
Leaving a business is never easy, and it is even harder if you love the business and deeply care for your employees. Even when the time is right, exiting is a significant change. Being honest and compassionate with your employees will give them the respect they deserve and will help ease the transition for all of you.