When I look back at the transitions in my career, I admit that I didn’t always know how to leave well. The blend of excitement I felt about the possibilities in the future, and my hope and nervousness about how it would work out took me away from paying full attention to what to do in the last few weeks before departure.
It’s tough to keep your feet on the ground and your focus on the work after submitting a resignation. But it isn’t impossible, and what’s more, it’s vital for you and your organization.
Here are dos and don’ts to keep in mind once the exit clock starts clicking:
1. Do have the right mindset.
It’s leaderful to do an exemplary job finishing up right before you leave. You need to have your wits about you to resist submitting to the temptation of believing that the years of work you’ve given should be enough and speak for themselves. Take the long view, and spend time finishing up with deliberation and grace.
2. Do review any incentive, bonus or other monetary compensation agreements.
Understand what the impact of your resignation will have on your monetary entitlement. Experienced executives and employment lawyers worth their salt will tell you that failure to review your contract could result in an unwelcome surprise of relinquishing entitlement to bonus, stock vesting, or other compensation. This is a case of “what you don’t know might really hurt your pocketbook.”
3. Don’t check out and disengage.
It’s easy and even natural to place your focus elsewhere when you know you’re leaving, but it’s unfair to your branch, department and division since you are still their leader. Leaving a legacy is less of an abstract notion and more tangibly real when the end of your time in the role is close. Carry yourself as a professional and be mindful of your legacy. If it’s a less-than-agreeable ending, once you’ve resigned, it’s important to manage your emotions. After all, it’s your reputation at stake, and that is far more important than your short-term emotional state.
4. Don’t leave the work of separating your personal property to the last minute.
Take care of ensuring that your personal data is separated from corporate documentation. Bring it home with you before your last day to avoid delays in retracting that personal information, especially if it’s information that is housed on a company cell phone or a company laptop. There’s not much worse than being unable to access personal information when you need it because it’s stuck in a bureaucratic labyrinth. Getting it untangled is no one else’s priority other than your own.
5. Do what you can to navigate relationships down and across.
Consider what your team needs to know from you. Create a checklist, and stick with it. And what about your horizontal alliances with colleagues? With a month to go before a marketing leader I know left her job for another employer, she made a point of meeting with each chapter of the inclusion groups in the company network she pioneered and where she had an outsized presence to encourage them to carry on doing their important work without her. When she shared this with me, I admired her commitment to take the time to ensure continuity. When I think about leaving, well, I often think of her.
6. Do keep your boss updated.
You know your boss and what she worries most about. Is the bench strength of your team well-positioned for the future? Assure her that all your approvals that have been in the queue are signed off. Draft a multi-page document of everything you do and discuss it. It may sound odd, but your boss is likely to be surprised by much of what’s on that list, especially if they are located far from where you are. Don’t forget to add to the list what you’ve been doing as a cultural ambassador.
7. Do spend time with your successor to set them up for success.
Ask yourself what you can do for the transition to go smoothly. Run through the strategy and budgets with an eye for identifying the watch-outs. Offer your insights about the informal networks and who the decision-makers, allies and advocates are. So much of this history can’t be read in a manual or in a series of emails and takes a long time to figure out, such as the history of the team and its relationships with those in adjacent functions. Above all, be a confidence builder, letting your successor know that they are ready for the role as you lead alongside them.
8. Do show appreciation.
If you aren’t the type of leader who regularly acknowledges the people with whom you work, it may be too late to start now. However, you should still resist telling your entire career story at the goodbye party, and leave time to personalize your acknowledgements for the people who contributed to your success. The way you thank people will leave a lasting impression and show you to be the people leader you are. Appreciating others makes it more likely that they will want to stay in touch with you at your new place of work. Beyond continuing the friendships, it can be very useful to maintain contact and include them in your strategic network.
There is lots to do, but it’s far more than a tidying up list (although leaving everything organized is a big part of it). When you plan your exit, you are showing that you care about continuity and the success of the business. Demonstrate that you know how to let go.
Your departure date is an exciting and risky time. It’s important to be mindful to sidestep the pitfalls you will be facing so that you leave well. Finish just like you started: strong.