(This article is excerpted from The Boomerang Principle: Inspire Lifetime Loyalty From Your Employees.)
When you are ready to leave your job, it may be tempting to make a dramatic flourish like Tom Cruise as Jerry McGuire in the movie of the same name — including scooping a goldfish out of the company fish tank and inviting colleagues to a more satisfying future by saying “Who’s coming with me?” followed by awkward silence broken only by Renee Zellweger’s character saying “I will.” Don’t do it. Really. Do not do it.
Even if you leave a company feeling that you absolutely never want to return, you do not know what will happen in the future. Those people you think you’ll never cross paths with again may turn up as clients, customers, colleagues or even hiring managers in a new company, either by hire or by merger.
The graceful exit is its own art form, and one that will pay off in spades over the life of your career. What you can control in this process is yourself. Your effort needs to move toward making the best exit possible for yourself — and for your company, too. The last impression you make is the one people will remember.
The Good Exit
Do everything you can to set a high bar for behavior on your way out. If you’ve made your career or life goals well-known and done what you can to maximize them at your current company but the opportunities you want are not there, then having a “shot across the bow” conversation with a supervisor is appropriate, as long as your relationship is positive.
Ask for a meeting to talk about your progress in your role. Prepare well for it and be ready to discuss your performance to date, where you’ve provided significant value, and what you would like to do in the next period of time.
The conversation should have the following three distinct parts:
A thank you and discussion of the recent past Thank the supervisor for taking the time to talk about your progress and aspirations. Outline what you’ve achieved, what you’ve learned and what you’ve helped other people learn since your last review. And discuss where things haven’t gone well and how you’ve adjusted to make a compromised situation better.
An exchange about the future Discuss ways you’d like to see your career evolve based on your experience. Be specific. If you see different possible routes, outline them. And ask for feedback from your manager.
A talk about next steps It’s a fifty-fifty chance that your supervisor will be able to help you realize your goals with the company you’re already working for, even if you think you’ve exhausted your possibilities.If there really isn’t a way to realize your goals within the team or the company, ask for recommendations. Keeping you in the extended fold is a good thing for your supervisor; ask her “What do you think my next best step would be?”
Depending on the conversation, choose a next step together. Thank your supervisor for the conversation. Indicate that you’re going to think about the matter more fully, and reiterate that you are dedicated to your current job. If appropriate, say when you’re going to talk again to put a period on the conversation. Always give a specific date. And end the conversation by referencing a current project you’re enjoying.
Now your supervisor is aware that you are looking at what’s next, and you are focused on what’s now.
Tie Things Up in a Bow Before You Give Notice
You may be walked out the door the day you give notice, particularly if you are going to a competitor, but that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare fully for a positive transition.
Before you give your notice, tie your projects up in a bow and outline how you recommend your work be redistributed while the team considers how to replace you.
If you manage other people, write a one-page status update on each one who reports to you, including your recommendations for promotion, assignment changes or development priorities.
Articulate an end date. While some human resources professionals feel the two-week notice is as endangered as the blue whale, it remains the professional, respectful standard. If you can provide a longer, valuable runway, offer that up.
If you have a contract that stipulates that your employment will cover a certain period of time, whether the time that remains is six weeks or six months, be prepared for an earlier exit while also being prepared to stay for the full length of your contract.
Replace yourself. Make a recommendation about how to cover your job responsibilities. Write a new job description that captures everything you do, both officially and “off the job description.” If you’ll be there for a bit, help interview for your replacement. Do everything you can to not leave a hole when you leave.
Don’t Be Stupid
Don’t be the person who costs your new company time or money because you were stupid in exiting your previous job. Every time your name is searched on the Internet, your bad behavior will come up, and it can be hard, and often costly, to suppress.
Based on my experience cleaning up what I generously call foolish mistakes by employees, here is a list of things you should and should not do as you plan to exit a company:
- Do maintain your regular hours at work.
- Don’t wipe your computer of any company documents.
- Don’t download anything confidential from your computer — that’s stealing.
- Don’t sabotage a deal, a product, a person, or a partnership.
- Don’t abandon your job during the notice period.
- Do adhere to company policies during your notice period.
Remember, in most cases, anything on your company computer belongs to the company. If you have personal files on your computer, remove them, but don’t be surprised if the company keeps them in its backup systems.
If you are using personal Dropbox, Box, or Google Docs accounts for your work, ask your IT department how you should dispose of these folders and files, and then follow those instructions.
I know it’s hard — I’ve been there, twice. Do it anyway. Don’t leave a bad taste in your soon-to-be-ex-colleagues’ mouths by dropping out or making them work harder during your last days on the job. You don’t know where those people will end up. Keep it professional: Show up, do your job, and provide recommendations even if you think they’ll be ignored.
When you are on your way out of a company, don’t:-
- Talk badly about your boss or the company
- Play practical jokes (put salt in the sugar shaker, subscribe your boss to lots of magazines, take the hinges off the refrigerator door)
- Wear an offensive T-shirt on your last day
- Play an explicit or negative soundtrack that other people can hear . . . really.
What People Will Remember About You
What’s important to keep in mind is that people will remember how you left, regardless of a positive or negative climate in the organization.
It’s that memory that will help determine the way further opportunities come to you from former colleagues who either stay with that company or go elsewhere.
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