How do you reveal to your team when an employee just leaves abruptly when he is underproductive?

I gave a probation period and an action plan to an employee whose performance was in general just adequate. He would perform sometimes but with a lot of handholding until it reached a stage where we felt that it became unproductive.
I talked to him about that and offered a one month probation period where they can decide on an area of work and owned it completely.
They decided instead to resign and they’ve been away for a day now.
How do you explain this to their team? Do you explain what happened exactly or just say that the employee left for personal reasons when they ask about it?

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Personal reasons or decided to go in a different direction.

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Interesting question. I think it depends on the size of the team. For smaller/earlier teams (say, 20person startup with early employees) I think it’s entirely appropriate to air everything out ‘publicly’ and be honest, without criticizing anyone. My reasoning being that people are taking a lot of risk just being with an early team and deserve to understand what’s going on and will worry about people leaving (“what did they know that I don’t!?“)

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Perhaps worth noting that if someone’s performance is just adequate and then they end up leaving, other team members who’ve worked with them often put 2 + 2 together that the role wasn’t the right fit.

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You should be honest with the team. You don’t know need to go into detail, but give a high-level overview of the situation and outcome.
I am assuming that you have defined expectations for roles at your company. I am also assuming that you have a process for handling probation periods. If you have neither of these, you may be want to be very careful about how to approach this with your team. Without clear expectations and processes, this can make others nervous or uncomfortable.

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I agree with telling your team the truth. You had a hard conversation with them and wanted to go in a different direction but this is how it went. No harm no foul.
I don’t know the context either so take this with a great of salt. Generally putting someone back on a probation is a sign to them that if they don’t leave now by choice they’ll have to leave eventually without a choice so it’s safer to do what they did. Just my opinion.

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+1 to being honest with the team.
It’s actually not a bad story. You gave the employee a chance to get back on track. Eventualy the employee decided it’s not a good fit for them.Regarding the meeting where you convey it to the team.
One of the best pieces of advice I got from my mentor was when I had to convey a firing of PM to the team.
My mentor said to approach it with this thought in mind:
From the perspective of the employees, it’s like watching their own funeral.
I.e. a glimpse of the type of things my manager could say if I left or was fired. So:

  • Be respectful when talking about the person
  • Make the meeting very short and to the point
  • Be honest and if someone asks something you don’t feel comfortable answering in the group, tell that person you’d be happy to talk one on one
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Another +1 to being honest. You can also talk with the employee and see if they have thoughts on how you frame it. But also - PIPs rarely work and most people expect them to fail. Really they’re often a nice way to give a struggling employee plenty of time to find another job.

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big +1 to @MichaelYoffe. A senior member of our team just quit and there was some minor bashing of their decision by the senior leadership and I gave them feedback that maybe that was a bad idea given that the remaining members of the team are people who can also quit

And big +1 to @KaranTrivedi, on PIP’s. I’ll consider it a failure on my part as a manager if I ever have to give somebody a performance improvement plan. Literally, what’s my job as a manager if not to be giving my reports a never ending performance improvement plan?