Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Last 21 Days

Many things have a beginning and ending. Projects, computers, vacations, games, school, friends, businesses (sometimes), life, and jobs. Some things have planned endings (vacation, school) and others are random by chance. While there is no shortage of management literature on starting new jobs or the "first 90 days" there seems to be little written about the process of leaving a company, we’ll call this “the last 21 days”.

I am now in the midst of both an ending and a new beginning. After 4 years at Kaplan, I am leaving to join iVillage, a division of NBC Universal. I have had a number of jobs in my career, leaving a company is not new to me, yet significant, none the less.

What are you supposed to do when you end a job? It’s not something we think about when taking a job, and also not something discussed, its mostly taboo. Unless you are a consultant, there is no way to "complete" a job. However, I do believe there are important things you should do, and not do, when leaving. I write this because if you are like me, you will have many conflicting emotions with this period of change, drama and sometimes trauma. Strong loyalties may create feelings of guilt for “abandoning” the company, or feelings of failure to complete a mission may even try to creep into your head. That’s the tricky bit and here are my thoughts:

First, leave a job as smoothly as possible. Someone leaving, especially the CTO, can be unsettling for a technology team, so make it as stable as you can. Write a transition document, think of all the things that may come up in the next 6 months, and pass along as much knowledge as you can to your team.

Second, go out on top. If at all possible, don't leave when things are in bad shape. Make sure you are leaving the team and technology systems in top shape. Think of a movie actor or sports star who stayed in the game just a little too long. How undesirable is that? Much better to leave with a legacy of accomplishments and fond memories. Make a list of accomplishments for yourself, and spend just a little time savouring them and congratulating yourself.

Third, talk about leaving. Don't hang your head in shame. Endings are part of life, and acknowledging them helps us deal with them. Talk about why you are leaving, and talk about conflicts you have about leaving. It’s ok to have regrets of missed future opportunities.

While there is no "completed" status for a job like there is a project, make it is complete as possible. And hopefully this will help you move along to your (my) next endeavor, and will keep your reputation in tact with your former employer. Your reputation should grow stronger with the change as you are the one taking the next big step.


Anonymous said...

Well said -- and congratulations!

Andy said...

Excellent advice, and congratulations on your career move. I hope you'll continue blogging!