We don’t really talk much about finishing jobs. There’s a whole industry about starting new jobs – the first 90 days and all that jazz. But how to finish up – well…

Searching the World Wide Web it’s notable how starting a job is framed positively, yet if you search for finishing up an old job there’s a bunch of negativity. It’s about avoiding burning bridges, how to resign, how to make sure you don’t negatively impact on your benefit entitlements

It’s in many ways a reinforcement of the old order, of symmetrical, long-term commitment from employer and employee. Those days are long gone along with the concept of “a job for life” and defined benefits pensions.

Don’t get me wrong – many people leave many jobs for predominantly negative reasons. That’s happened to me a few times over the years too. But the majority of times that I’ve moved on to something new, it’s simply been because it has been the right time for a change. And goodness knows how many people I’ve worked with over the years who have gone many years past the right time for a change.

Even when it’s the right time, there are bits that are hard. Mostly, for me, the people stuff. Saying goodbye to people that you see quite possibly more in waking hours than your family. The main reason why I went back into full-time employment in 2019 after six years of free-range consulting was because I was lonely. The last two and a half years have been a wonderful collective effort in building a team.

So as I start my penultimate week in this role, what so far have I learned from these endings?

Thinking about the people

I was acutely aware of the impact that my leaving might have on my team and the broader organisation. And also how I told the story of my leaving was important too. David Brent was (not for the first time in my career) ringing in my ears…

It was really important that I could express my choices for leaving in a way that wasn’t just “good news for me, bad news for you” (which of course is somewhat assumptive that my team wouldn’t think my leaving would be a good news thing!).

In the end, I was able to articulate how the work that I have done until now is where my strengths lie (diagnosing challenges, creating a strategy, getting buy-in for the strategy, building the team to deliver the transformation) and we now shift into a mode where I’m not so strong (operationalising the transformation). This wasn’t just fluff – I really do believe that the team now needs new leadership so that it can achieve what’s needed next.

Shifting focus

Soon after announcing that I was going to leave, I wanted to help the team to think about what their future would look like without it just being about my departure.

We organised a workshop that started by me talking through two views of what I do – a kind of “job description” view, a list of capabilities, and a task view which in essence was a long list of different types of meeting. Being in meetings a lot is the core of what many managers should be doing.

I then got the team to think about all of those things, and to think about them in the context of

A) what they actually needed

B) of what they needed, what they could actually do for themselves.

And that in turn led to some gaps – the things that me leaving in the short term would not or could not be covered by the team itself. The main gap? Who would “have their back”?

That discovery gave focus to the work that happened subsequently to define short-term interim plans. It also I think helped the team start to plan forward.

Shaping the future by letting go

I think sometimes it’s easy for people to become more possessive of their work when they are on their way out. Conversely, it’s also possible for people to become lackadaisical to the extreme once they have handed in their notice.

I’ve been trying to place myself into a new liminal role – the role of the exiting manager. The job has become an exercise in consciously handing over activities, and also trying to create the narrative of my time in the role – where it started, what events informed decisions, and therefore how we got to where we are. Sometimes that narrative, which will probably be lost when I leave the job, can be helpful to refer back to when pinch points come on projects.

As of last week (3 weeks from my last day) I consciously stepped back from many of my meetings. This means I can give people the chance to pick up and spot potential gaps whilst I’m still around to be easily referred to. It also means I can focus on the remaining handover activities.

Hopefully in the remaining nine working days everything will get neatly closed or handed over. No doubt there will be things that crop up for the team in the next few months that will have been missed. They’ll either work it out for themselves, or drop me a line – in the era of the Internet and social networks, you never really escape!

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