Submitted by cjp147 on
We are in a bit of an odd situation. Long story short, I have terminated an employee on my team, but the termination is not effective until the end of the month (3/30). The employee has some strong relationships with some of our key customers. He has been instructed to not say anything (about him leaving the company) to anyone.
What does the MT community recommend I communicate to our customers and when? I do not want to say, "John will no longer be with ACME as of 3/30 b/c he left to pursue other opportunities..." b/c that is not true. We could just stop at, "John will no longer be with ACME as of 3/30," however, our customers are likely to ask questions.
I'd appreciate any feedback or suggestions the group has and I can provide more information, if needed.
I honestly can’t think of a scenario where it is healthy to keep a terminated employee in the workforce for an extended period of time. I guess the one exception would be during a reduction in force (RIF) exercise. If the employee is leaving due to a reduction in force, I see no reason not to share this information. The customer will know about the RIF and will put 2 and 2 together when they get a new account rep.
Do you really think he won’t say anything? He is in job search mode. Your clients are part of his network. Along with that he has unrestricted access to your key accounts. I don’t know why he is being terminated, but obviously he isn’t a fit for the role you have. Are you at all concerned that he’ll take clients with him given that he has a month to build a case for them to do so?
The fact that his termination is not effective until 3/30 does not mean that his duties should remain the same. I would immediately begin notifying customers of the transition from the terminated employee to the new employee that will take on the role. Until the 30th, I would have the terminated employee “working from home” after you have taken his laptop, blackberry/iPhone, and network access. In his mind, he no longer works for you.
In your communication with the customers, simply state that the move is being made in order to provide them with better support. If they press you about the future of the terminated employee, you can honestly say that the terminated employee is no longer working on customer accounts.
What does this look like to the customers?
I think that you do need to tell your customers something as soon as possible, as saying nothing will affect your organization's relationship with these customers.
Assuming your employee is a paragon about carrying out his instruction to say nothing, customers will still start to scent something odd - what if I ask for a meeting in April? John (his made-up name in this story) can't meet me then, he will be gone. What does he say then? What do I conclude from his uncertainty about what to say? Something is up clearly - I'll start thinking reorganization, your company going under, poorly planned handover, various other possibilities that you don't want me to be thinking about.
Or, what happens when I try to contact John on 2 April, and find as a complete surprise that he is gone and I am now dealing with someone else?Not a good start for him/her, as my first question is "Oh. What happened to John, then?" And my first concern is that he/she is going to waste a lot of my time rebuilding the relationship I had with John
Whatever your customers think about John, their professional interest is in how your organization plans to handle them & their business before and after he goes. So your communication to them can be mostly about them, and need not go excessively into personal details that are not their concern. It must be true and must be fair though.
Why would it be untrue?
You said "I do not want to say, "John will no longer be with ACME as of 3/30 b/c he left to pursue other opportunities..." b/c that is not true."
Why is this untrue? I might not recommend those words exactly, but it's not untrue. That may not have been the cause of him leaving, but it's surely what he's going to do when he leaves.
Like others here, I also think this is a little unusual to fire someone and expect them to continue working. But whatever the reasons, I'm assuming you'll have to do some sort of transition to another employee, so this shouldn't be a complete surprise to everyone on 3/30. If so, you'll have to let your employee know it will be made public in advance.
Just say: "Dear Customer, I'm calling/writing to let you know John will be transitioning his responsibilities for your account to Suzie as of March 30, 2012. We are committed to making this transition as smooth as possible for you."
If a customer asks what's up, just tell them he's leaving the company. Don't feel like you need to explain why -- it's not typical for companies to share this information. It's usually either irrelevant or counter to your company's interests (if customers might follow the employee to his next company), so withholding details doesn't come across as too weird.
Now, you're employee may feel a little awkward as fellow employees or customers ask him where he's going, so he needs a heads up before you make it public knowledge.
Thanks for the replies!
First, thanks DMIDDLEB, CHRISBAKERPM, and BUHLERAR for the replies!
I'll try to answer your questions and provide some additional follow-up info.
First (primarily to DMIDDLEB), I realize it is hard to envision a scenario where keeping a terminated employee in the workforce makes sense. I hope you can trust and believe me when I say: It is very complicated and it does make sense to me. This is not a RIF. Do I think he will say anything to his customers? No, I/we really don't think he'll keep totally quiet. But he has contacts he is close with (that I could see him saying something to). He always has other contacts (that are higher up) that he would not say anything too. I trust and believe that. There is no concern or risk he'll take customers with him. The concern would be that he'll say something disparaging about us a company, but part of his package/deal is that he cannot do that legally. This resource already works from home and from the moment we communicated this decision to him we began transitioning as much of his work away from him as possible. [He's been very professional about all of this, btw.] I like the advice to state that we are making this move to provide them with better support.
To CHRISBAKERPM, we will certainly notify customers before 3/30. So there will be no surprise if they try and contact him after the 30th. I also like your advice to focus our communication on them (and not go into the details about the resource and the reasons).
Finally, BUHLERAR, while I agree that he will be pursuing other opportunities, I do have a problem messaging this to sound like it was his decision. That could certainly get back to our customers and I do think we'd look potentially look bad. I'm not sure how it could be worded to improve the message. The reality is that we did make this move to better support our customers.
And to be clear, we don't expect him to keep working. He's doing as little as possible and transitioning as much of his work as possible. Again, he's been very professional about everything.
Thanks again for all of the help/advice.
I would tell the customers
I would arrange to have the employee hand off the customers to another employee in the company. You want this to be done smoothly so that customers do not feel abandoned once they find out that John is no longer there. I would be proactive and just explain that John will no longer be with the company effective 3/30. If someone presses you for answers, you do not have to give them any. I do agree with the other posts that such a long time to seperation is unique. I would make sure you are in front of this. Is there a chance John goes to work for the competition? In which case that smooth handoff is critical.
I've been on the customer
I've been on the customer end of a good transition, where the rep that had been working with me did basically what BUHLERAR suggested the company do. He let me know that he would be transitioning my account to X, and that X would do everything possible to meet my needs.
I've also been on the other extreme when a rep just disappeared and the company did nothing to pave the way for the transition. Who ya gonna call? Very frustrating. I think my first case was unusual, but would love to have had the company follow BUHLERAR's suggestion in the second case.
Update and Thanks!
I just wanted to thanks everyone for their comments and recommendations. I think we (as a company) did a good job getting out in front of the situation and we had smooth handoffs internally. It has been a month since the employee has been officially gone and there have been no complaints or hiccups. This was definitely a unique situation.