Exiting Gracefully …


This January has been interesting; have you noticed? It seems not a day has passed without a LinkedIn post indicating someone is moving on to a new adventure. What an amazing time of self-reflection and evolution. If these brave folks have sparked you thinking about what might be next career-wise, make sure you don’t overlook an obvious element while planning what’s next: your exit.

Having seen through resignations as both a team leader and Talent professional, I can safely and sadly tell you that sometimes exits go bad. And yes, there are some valid reasons for frayed nerves on both sides of the fence.

Let’s face it, though: it’s a small world, and social media makes it much smaller. Despite frustrations, there are ways to move forward without blowing up the proverbial bridge behind you.

There’s always a silver lining

It’s likely you’re struggling with negatives before and during the exit: not enough growth opportunity, lack of direction, bad management, etc. Totally understandable. All that weight tends to pull a person down mentally, though. It’s unlikely you’d want your lasting impression to be misconstrued as ‘bitterness’ (sorry, it’s true). It’s critical to be aware of, but not get mired in, what you consider to be wrong.

As you approach what’s next, know that every experience — good or bad — is a learning experience. Remember what’s worked for you in terms of the people, culture, role and responsibilities. Remember what drew you to the opportunity in the first place. Focus on these positives to ensure 1) your overall well-being isn’t lessened by any negativity around you and 2) you’re moving into a new role that affords you what you were lacking. Hopefully, you’ll feel more at peace and less frustrated about what’s surrounding you as you leave.

Offer some help

Offer your assistance, but within reason and within your comfort zone. Ask what you can do to make the transition seamless: pose this to your Director, your team members, your HR team. They may ask you for your thoughts surrounding what’s next or your perspective on others who may be prime for your role; do some topline thinking and provide it.

If the requests seem daunting and/or unreasonable, set a realistic timeline for deliverables and provide to your Director, stating what will be provided and when, to make sure expectations are managed effectively.

Don’t take it personally

People will want — and likely need — to move on, when you’ll no longer be there to shoulder responsibilities. They may start delegating to your team; they may move your seating. More times than not, this is simply evolution taking its course: they are preparing for your absence. The silver lining approach mentioned can help if you’re feeling ostracized; remember, you’re moving forward.

Make change where you’re able

You can’t solve for culture. You won’t solve for a bad manager. Your resignation isn’t likely to be the one thing that affects change outright, no matter how angry or nice you are on your way out. But your opinion matters, especially if there is a glaring issue that others have addressed as well. If there is a formal initiative in place, use your exit interview to make your concerns known. If a formal exit program doesn’t exist, set time with your HR team to speak your mind. This being said ….

Choose your language thoughtfully

An exit isn’t an airing of the grievances. It’s a time to focus on the real issues that have affected you (and possibly others). It’s a platform for the company’s learning.

The best approach to being professional is to come equipped with examples and facts (no, not ‘alternative facts’). This is the most credible way of being heard. If you’ve struggled with being promoted, don’t simply state: “I’m mad; I haven’t been promoted.” Prove that you should have been promoted by bringing your job description, your last reviews, giving examples of the responsibilities you’ve shouldered, or the promises that may have been made and not kept. This will lessen the risk of making your opinion an invalid one, and improve the chance of someone realizing and acting on the issue in the future.

Knowing when (and what) to escalate

For most, the reasons for moving on are simple and easily solved with a new challenge, environment, and/or boss. For others, that may not be the case. In the sickening circumstance of harassment of any kind, there are more serious avenues that an individual can (and should) take. That is another post altogether, but it comes down to this: if you or anyone you know believes rights are being violated, a solid first step is to have a conversation with your HR lead to begin to understand what options you have.

Be humble, be thankful

I’ve been inspired by those who have posted for a lot of reasons, but one element in particular struck me. Most have made positive statements of Thanks to their previous employers, making note of the great experiences they were afforded in their last adventure. Whether it be verbal, handwritten, or on LinkedIn for the world to see, it’s an unnecessary gesture, but one of kindness and maturity that doesn’t go unnoticed.

So … onward! Feel good about where you’ve been, feel positive about where you’re going, be thankful for both.

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