Service: Human resources 

How to manage your exit and secure your legacy

By Richard Kleiner

21 Jan 2022

If you've just accepted a new job, it's natural to get caught up in the excitement, be preoccupied with the practicalities, and want to focus on your future role.

But planning your exit is just as important. Not only will the way you handle your exit influence how your colleagues remember you, but it will shape your reputation – for better or worse.

We've all heard stories about or experienced first-hand the impact that poorly managed exits can have on the team left behind. Whether it's giving minimum notice and leaving several projects unfinished or taking on too much and failing to set aside sufficient time for closure meetings and handovers, there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid. 

So, how can you manage your exit and secure your legacy?

Identify your exit priorities…

Think about the unique knowledge, experience and contacts that you bring to the table and focus on what you can do to make a meaningful impact before you leave. It might be putting all this information down in a document or focusing on winding up a big project nearing completion. Some projects might get left unfinished, and that's OK. Focus on things that you can realistically achieve and will make you feel good about your remaining time in the role.

…and share them with your team

As soon as your peers know what your priorities are, they will have greater clarity on what is expected of them in the transition period. You need to establish boundaries so that they know what your remit is and know what to involve you in (or not). And by getting used to redirecting requests and involving others in decision-making processes, you'll show that you trust them to work without your input. 

Submit a detailed transition plan to your manager

Above all, you need to make your manager, and possibly others, aware of any priorities that your successor will have to address. For example, you might want to share your thoughts on the structure of your department and any future challenges the business might face, along with suggestions for delegating tasks in your absence. A good tip is to make this a working document so that others can help to shape your plan, too.

Spend time with your team

As mentioned above, neglecting to dedicate time to your team to prepare them for the transition is a common pitfall. Reflect on what you've achieved together and ask about their future goals. This could take the form of a structured meeting or an informal chat. Whatever your preferred choice of format, it's important to empower your team and help them to focus on their collective achievements. They need to know that they can work independently and get used to being less reliant on your input.

Make the transition as seamless as possible for your successor

Clearly, you want your former team and organisation to continue to thrive, and a big part of this is ensuring that your successor benefits from a well-managed exit. Put yourself in their shoes: what do they need to know about the organisation that isn't immediately obvious? This could be anything from internal politics to limited resources. In addition, what are the main challenges facing your team specifically and how would you recommend overcoming them?

What’s more, while it can be tempting to leave problems for your successor to solve, try not to justify your inaction on the basis that rocking the boat now might tarnish your reputation or be a task best left to someone else. Be brave, make the right call and set up your replacement for success.

Don't leave until you've left

Naturally, you're bound to be excited about your new position (or retirement), but make sure that you're still present and lend an ear to those who still depend on you for direction. Your colleagues will likely feel anxious about you leaving and will want to spend time with you, so take care not to appear distant, uncaring or self-absorbed. Crucially, that sort of reputation will be difficult to shake off in future roles, so make sure you leave your colleagues with a positive lasting impression of you – you might just need their recommendation at some point in the future.

So, if you're leaving your role imminently, be sure to end on a positive note, set your team up for success and secure your legacy. Your team's lasting impression of you matters more than you think.

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