“A society grows great when old people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.”
Ancient Greek proverb
“An organization grows great when departing staff prepare the ground for the people who will follow them.”
Modern student affairs aphorism
There are all sorts of articles and publications for how to start a new job, but relatively little is written on how to end a job; how to leave well. The pieces I have found usually speak to the impact on the leaver, rather than the impact on the organization (e.g., don’t burn bridges, follow through on final tasks, don’t gossip while exiting). However, thinking about the organization and the people in it are important considerations because unless your position is being eliminated someone will be following you. Part of your legacy at the institution and in the unit will be related to how the person following you is able to get up to speed and what they end up saying about how it was to follow you.
Here are suggestions for leaving well:
Provide a minimum of one month’s notice.
You are leaving a professional position and as excited as you are to start your new adventure and as much pressure your new employer may be placing on you, you are leaving behind an organization that has nurtured you professionally and helped you get the experience that led to this new opportunity. The professional minimum is one month. No employer will go with their second choice because they want you a week or two before that.
Make your successor’s success a priority.
Avoid the temptation of doing subtle, subconscious things to ensure that folks will miss you. One reason they may miss you is if the individual following you struggles, and you are the person in the strongest position to ensure that that doesn’t happen. Instead, make this unknown person’s success your priority.
Consider what the person following you needs to know and do.
Given the myriad tasks that have come to make up your job, think about those things that your successor will need to focus on, especially early in their tenure. Write them down with brief explanations and organizational contacts who can assist them on particular tasks. Share your brief, criterion-based frank appraisal on your direct reports’ strengths and weaknesses. Sure, the person who follows you will want to make up their own minds, but if you know someone has an issue with punctuality or is a whiz at creating presentations, don’t make the new person discover that on their own. Identify particularly helpful and knowledgeable people in the organization with whom they should connect.
Create a transition file.
Gather together the important files and information that you believe are important for your successor to be aware of, especially during their first three months in the job. Provide an executive summary identifying what is in the transition file and why. Include the documents from the previous section.
Get rid of the junk.
There are scores of files in your desk and file cabinets, and on your computer that contain information that is either unimportant or outdated and that your successor doesn’t need. Either discard these files or archive them. Otherwise, they will distract your successor from focusing on what is important, because they will not know the difference between important and unimportant material.
Try to ensure that the new person will receive this information.
Depending on the situation the person following you may not come on board for months or longer. Therefore, given the realities of organizational functioning, leave copies of the transition file and supporting documentation with multiple people, including the administrative assistant, the individual supervising this position, and a trusted colleague in the organization. Keep a file for yourself as well.
Recognize and accept that you can do all this and it will be ignored.
This is hard work. It takes a lot of time and energy to do this, and it must be done knowing that everything you do to assist the new person might be ignored. It has happened to me, including the time when as part of the transition file I recorded a tour of the facilities. I learned that my successor never listened to it. However, I will continue to leave well because you never know when…
You will create a fan for life.
I can speak from experience that in those leavings where I left a substantial transition file that was used by my successor, I have created a fan for life, because my successors were able to hit the ground running and generate the kind of “early wins” that contributed to their long term success.
If you found this helpful, please share with others. If you have other perspectives and ideas on “Leaving Well,” please share with me.