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The Boomerang Team Member

Ryan Frederick | April 26th, 2021

One of the great satisfactions of leading a company is when team members come back.

There are the obvious reason of good team members being hard to find and we want to hang on to them, but team members who leave and come back have meaning much deeper than that for themselves, for the rest of the team, and for the company.

Boomerang team members, as they are often referred to as, are an important proof point for a company and the rest of the team. A team member who is valued who leaves is a blow to a company and the rest of the team. Team members leave for many different reasons and often these reasons are personal and outside the impact and control of the company. And its true, that sometimes team members just want to try and be exposed to a different environment, culture, work, and team. Sometimes they just need a change.

The challenge for a company and its leadership when a valued team member leaves is how the departure is viewed by the rest of the team and how the departure affects morale. A valued team member leaving can send shock waves through a company. It takes time to settle before the rest of the team realizes everything will be okay. Leaders often can’t communicate much of why a team member leaves to protect the privacy of the departing team member. This can make team member departures opaque to the rest of the team and can cause some team members to wonder what happened and why the person decided to leave. This air of uncertainty and questions as the result of a someone leaving can be unsettling for a company.

A mark of good leadership is how the departure of valued team members is handled with the departing team member and the rest of the team. The departing team member and the rest of the team will remember how leadership conducted themselves which can either erode trust and confidence or build them up. I’m not referring to the process stuff that most companies perform now like exit interviews as part of a team member’s departure. I’m talking about how leadership handles the dialogue and feelings around the departure. Yes, I said communication and feelings - like a leader is navigating a relationship - because they are. A professional relationship, but a relationship, nonetheless. How leadership communicates with and conducts themselves with a departing team member either adds more fabric to the relationship with the departing team member and the rest of the team or subtracts it.

Leaders who let a departing team member know how much they value and appreciate their work and contribution to the company’s success gain more respect from the departing team member and the rest of the team. This not only allows a leader to communicate their appreciation, but to also provide a forum for other team members to as well. The openness of the appreciation demonstrates to everyone that leadership values the team’s work even when it is most challenging to do so,  like when someone has chosen to leave. This takes true leadership.

Leaders properly communicating and appreciating team member’s during their departure also does one other very important thing - it sets the stage for the team member to return. How leaders end something can greatly impact whether it is permanent or whether there is an opportunity for the relationship to continue in the future. A team member is much more likely to return to a company if their departure was handled positively, rather than with disdain.

Boomerang team members are evidence for the rest of the team that the grass isn’t always greener. Sometimes team members need evidence that this is true, even if they suspect it is true and are mostly happy. Boomerang team members are a proof point for everyone else. If a company is fortunate to have a series of boomerang team members that’s even better because then they, and the rest of the team, aren’t basing their perspective and decision to stay with a company because one or two people came back. A series of people leaving and coming back tells everyone at the company that this is a pretty great place to be and several of those who ventured away have come back confirms it.

The return of highly regarded and valued team members lifts everyone’s spirits too. The emotional aspects are just as important as the logical ones. The boomerang team members inject a bit of new energy and excitement upon their return that helps to boost everyone’s morale.

Boomerang team members can be a shot of adrenaline for in-flight work. They don’t have to learn your processes, culture, tools, and systems. They know how to work in your environment so they can hit the ground running and provide immediate impact and value as compared to an entirely new team member that has to get onboarded and brought up to speed. With that said, boomerang team members shouldn’t be viewed as saviors and shouldn’t be expected to be the reason a project that isn’t going well, immediately gets turnaround. That is too much pressure on a boomerang team member and is also unfair. Adrenaline yes, savior no.

To facilitate team members who have departed your company to come back you have to maintain a relationship after their departure. A relationship that is sincere and where you are clearly demonstrating you are putting the team’s interest above your own. Our team member, who leads recruiting for us, also maintains relationships with those who have left that we would like to have come back. We have our recruiting leader be the point person for maintaining these relationships because it seems the most natural, is the least threatening to the former team member, and is from our perspective, still a recruiting activity. We’re just recruiting the former team member a second time, rather than it being the first. Companies have to have someone lead the effort to maintain relationships with well-regarded former team members. If a company doesn’t intentionally maintain relationships with former team members, the company shouldn’t expect to have many or any boomerang team members.

We’ve had several boomerang team members come back to our firm. It is a major validation of the culture and environment we have created to value and appreciate everyone. We work hard at it. We don’t always get it right and when we don’t, we admit it. Our boomerang team members at least let us know we are getting more of it right than wrong.

Originally posted to Columbus Business First Leadership Trust.