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Chris Locke


CEO UK and Europe, Rainmaking & Head of Startupbootcamp Rise

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The new off-boarding pathway: supporting departing staff in startup success

Redundancy doesn’t have to the end of the road – companies are now helping outgoing staff to start-up their own businesses.

The HR profession has faced a number of Covid-19 challenges – executing a remote working model at scale, ensuring staff morale and culture is maintained while staff work in isolation, and developing plans to mitigate workplace issues as we slowly move towards a ‘new normal’. There has also been the unenviable task of making a large-scale redundancies.

There are several forward-thinking companies that are now rolling out schemes to help departing staff start businesses.

Whereas some big brands, such as Microsoft and Zoom have taken on huge numbers of new customers during Covid-19, the vast majority of businesses have seen extreme pressure applied to their bottom line. The International Labour Organization has warned that 430 million enterprises in hard-hit sectors are at risk of ‘serious disruption’ and nearly half of the global workforce are at risk of job losses. The UK’s largest recruitment firm, Reed, predicted the unemployment rate in the UK could reach 15%, which means 5 million people could be out of work.

New career pathway

Making talent redundant is never easy, but at a time when the job market is in free fall, sending great talent into a stagnant market through no fault of their own makes it even harder. Although, many companies aim to do the right thing by offering outplacement to help with CV writing, career advice and interview preparation, the impact of this is somewhat negated if there are no job opportunities on the market.

There’s a huge array of benefits for creating this pathway, but the key advantage is that it gives businesses an opportunity to live their people-first values. 

As Covid-19 is changing all aspects of our lives, it is time to think about an alternative pathway to traditional outplacement that is designed to empower the departing talent to equip themselves with critical future skills and take control of their own destiny by creating it themselves and building their own businesses. Times of rapid disruption, like the one we are experiencing provide ample opportunities for new businesses to take advantage. Consumer needs rapidly changed, which opens up huge new market opportunities.

There are several forward-thinking companies that are now rolling out schemes to help departing staff start businesses, but it was orginally pioneered by Nokia ten years ago, when it was faced with making over 40,000 job cuts. It opened centres in Europe, India and the US to help those faced with redundancy to find a new job, either inside or outside the company. It also formed ‘Bridge,’ an entrepreneurial stream for employees that had an idea for a startup. Since its inception, Bridge has helped over 1000 start-ups. The scheme is credited for fuelling the rise of the Finnish tech ecosystem, which includes success stories like Supercell and Rovio.

People-first values

There’s a huge array of benefits for creating this pathway, but the key advantage is that it gives businesses an opportunity to live their people-first values. Creating this new pathway means that business can send a clear message, not just to those departing but also to existing employees, and it can help to attract new talent when the market returns.

Supporting local communities and changing former employees lives for the better brings with it a massive amount of brand equity. It also means that the company can take a proactive role in helping the economy return to growth. To maximise the success of this and get the brand reward, all HR leaders need to do is ensure they deliver a planned and sustained communications campaign. All staff, customers, suppliers, partners and communities need to be aware of the programme.

Tips for success

For HR leaders who haven’t considered this pathway, this new approach can be daunting. It’s important to remember, however, that the HR team will not be responsible for scaling these startups. The key task is to develop and communicate a programme, which can then be handed to experts to develop and run.

If this alternative pathway is something you’d consider pioneering, there are a number of key factors that can help make it a success:

  1. Collaboration: the best start-ups are those founded with teams that have complementary skill sets – but in a corporate environment the chances are people who work in tech development don’t know sales colleagues etc because they work in different locations. This means you need to create a space for employees who are being let go to meet, make connections and potentially form teams around common problems they want to solve. This can be done virtually during Covid-19, as the key is just to ensure that people correctly identify their skill set and areas of interest.
  2. Involvement: you need to be clear on the degree of your involvement – does the business just want to offer the opportunity to develop the skills and mindset for ex-staff to create a start-up? Is it willing to offer access to assets such as unused IP or potentially invest in ideas that could help solve some of the company’s key challenges?
  3. Partnership: if you are investing in start-ups you need to make sure that the programme is supported with a partnership that will provide the best experience for your people to maximise success. Buying them access to a training course or having an hour’s discussion with a start-up coach from an outplacement firm isn’t really going to move the needle. Those wanting to build new start-ups need training, coaching and mentoring in how to move from ideation to activation and be given the right introductions to future VCs etc.
  4. Communicate: this is a great initiative and can be used to attract new talent, build stronger relations with the communities and customers. If you are launching this scheme be sure to make sure that everybody knows about it – your brand will benefit.

They say the most important factor in success is timing, and whilst that might feel counter intuitive right now, Covid-19 is providing the perfect timing. HR leaders have opportunity to play a leading role in reshaping this future – not only through helping the people the company retains, but also in thinking creatively about launching new schemes for the people it has to let go.  

Interested in this topic? Read How should employers prepare for a post-furlough world?

Author Profile Picture
Chris Locke

CEO UK and Europe, Rainmaking & Head of Startupbootcamp Rise

Read more from Chris Locke

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