Last night as I cooked dinner, I sent a text to a co-worker. I was brief and to the point. First an avatar of my face with the mouth covered by black tape with “&$!#%” on it. Then, the comment “I heard your news.” His response was quick: “Emily!” with a crying emoji face. What followed was a quick exchange of appreciation and encouragement with an employee who’d just given notice. I wanted him to know (1) I’d miss him, (2) that I was excited for his next career adventure, and (3) he could reach out to me any time in the future.
During my career, I’ve seen people and organizations respond oddly when someone resigns. I’ve never understood it. Career growth is a good thing—and inevitable. As a leader your purpose is to build technical experts, proficient managers, compassionate teammates, and bold dreamers who are empowered to step into their full potential. You should want folks to “leave the nest” as it means you helped shape the next generation of servant leaders. (But that doesn’t lessen the pain when a great employee leaves.)
When folks on my team resign – either for another position in the firm or to another organization – I set aside time to discuss the transition, as well as get feedback. Here are the key components of the conversation:
- What habits served you well that you want to keep? I think it’s important to help the person see the gifts and talents they take with them, then figure out how not to lose their magic in a new organization, role, or culture.
- What do you want to make sure you leave behind and how will you do that? Starting a new job is a great time to explore your boundaries and bad habits. Knowing what you want to change or prevent from reoccurring, and having a plan in place before your onboarding to breaking the cycle of things like calendar chaos, being over extended, not using 100% of your vacation, or doing things you outgrew.
- What will you do to rebuild your reputation? You are not a known entity at a new company. You must prove yourself, your skills, your value, your camaraderie, your creativity, all over to everyone. You must, however, take the time to understand the environment (culture) in which to do this. What served you well in your past organization could hinder you in another. I encourage you to patiently spend time learning the organization, its people, and how it operates—the spoken and unspoken rules. Then slowly step into things and let your light shine. Think 3-way light bulb revealing more and more of your talents over time, rather than all out disco ball on day one.
- What do you want to get out of this next experience? I think it’s important to be clear on not just why you left but what you want to get from the next job. Experience leading people? Financial management? Learn a new skill? Go deeper in your area of expertise? Work with a type of client? Start an initiative? Public speaking opportunities? What will improve you… stretch you… build on what you have so you’re ready for the next jump? The phrase I use is, “be selfish in how you use the job to get what you want and need – and do it in a way that also serves the businesses’ goals.”
- What do you need to succeed? I believe the philosophical equivalent to this question is the statement “know thy self.” Any place you move to doesn’t know you and generally provides tools / approaches that work for the masses of employees. You need to know and advocate for what you need personally, from reasonable accommodations to how you engage with your supervisor (e.g., weekly touch base, being on-camera, debrief after major projects). Set clear boundaries from the beginning. Don’t make folks demonstrate their lack of mind reading skills.
- How can you improve and better support the people on your new team? It’s important to take a moment to be self-reflective. Consider the framework: Dazzle / Dang It. Under “Dazzle,” write down when and how you dazzled your teammates with your best self. This is not about “one-upsmanship” or having the spotlight but how you genuinely supported a person in your team. How did you help them grow, get to the next table, own the spotlight, move closer to a goal? Under the “Dang It” header, list missed opportunities for allyship, advocacy, and assistant of co-workers—and what you might do differently in the future.
I then ask for feedback of my performance, asking questions like: How can I improve? What could I do differently to support their replacement? What did I do that drove them crazy? What should I keep doing that was helpful?
In closing, I stress that I’m now a permanent part of their career journey. A long-term resource for venting, moral support, advice, or celebration. It’s important folks understand that a resignation is not an end, but rather the extension of a network of like-minded leaders. Leaders eager to help one another throughout career adventures—and couldn’t we all use a bit more of that?