Navigating “The Great Resignation” and Lessons from a Lighter Capital portfolio company, by Melissa Widner, CEO Lighter Capital
Nothing strikes terror in the heart of a company leader more than the prospect of losing valuable team members. The US has been in the “great resignation” since late 2020. According to the most recent JOLTS report, a record number of 4.3 million Americans left their jobs in December 2021.
I assumed the CEO role at Lighter Capital in September 2020. In my first year, we had only one regrettable resignation, but in September 2021 we had three within a few weeks of each other. The three people each left for reasons that made perfect sense for them at this stage in their careers, but that didn’t make the losses any easier. While on a percentage basis, Lighter Capital has very low turnover, it still scared the @#$% out of me. Did this mean everyone was about to jump ship?
Team retention was a key topic at Lighter Capital’s portfolio CEO Summit in October 2021 where we gathered in Arizona with a few dozen of startup founders. Not surprisingly, many valuable nuggets of wisdom were shared including this story from a CEO in the Lighter Capital portfolio.
One of his senior team members informed him she was approached for a position at SpaceX and was planning to apply. It was a coveted role with a salary much greater than her current one. At that point, most leaders might assume she was already out the door and would immediately start searching for her replacement. But that’s not what he did. Instead, he asked what attracted her to the SpaceX role and how he could help her obtain an offer. He spent hours advising her on the PowerPoint presentation that was required as part of the interview process.
She nailed the interview and received an offer from SpaceX. However, she decided to stay at her current company. The experience taught her two things: 1. She was talented enough to receive an offer from a big name company like SpaceX 2. She loved her current role and the support she received from the founder/CEO. She couldn’t imagine working anywhere else.
I like this story because his actions are a perfect example of mentor leadership. After the three departures in September, I addressed the topic of resignation with the team head on. I let people know that while we don’t want to lose anyone, if they do find themselves in a position where Lighter is unable to meet their goals or passions, we will do what I can to help them find their next role. This could mean making introductions, acting as a reference, or giving them a project at Lighter outside of their current responsibilities in order to broaden their skillset. As our portfolio CEO story illustrates, top leaders guide and advise their team members based on what’s best for the employee even if that isn’t necessarily optimal for the company at that time. Ultimately, this kind of behavior should lead to greater team member engagement and hopefully, lower attrition.
It’s a reminder that we cannot dwell on actions beyond our control. As a remote-only company, we are testing new approaches to team bonding and building culture beyond squares on zoom calls. We have different departments leading all-hands meetings, we’ve implemented two annual in-person retreats–our first one was in Hawaii earlier this month, and will celebrate all wins, big and small, across departments.