Lessons on Leaving Well

01 Jul

Over the years I have learned some lessons about how to transition out of jobs well (and how not to).

I am very happy with how my last transition has gone. ?I feel like I have left well, maintained and even strengthened relationships, and avoided burning any bridges. I felt valued and affirmed as an employee leaving; I think the company felt well-served by me in my final weeks. ?It was really a win-win.

When I worked as an executive in ministries or churches, we often talked about succession planning, but it never really took place. ?I now serve on a church board and as the president of the board of a substantial social service agency. ?In both cases I can tell you we do not have a great succession plan — though I hope we will within a year from now.

There are lots of reasons people leave organizations. ?Some good, some bad, some neutral, some predictable, some totally unpredictable. But organizations need to have a succession plan in place — this is simply good stewardship.

When I was forced to leave my last church position due to my own moral failure, there is was no succession plan in place. ?To be honest, I thought that church would be my last job and that I would retire from its pulpit. ?So in the back of my mind, I knew we needed a succession plan (in case I got hit by a bus, dropped dead, what have you), but I didn't think we needed one now.

I was wrong.

In some ways, that church got lucky. ?There was a natural leader to step in. ?The church had been co-founded by two pastors and both of us had been in on the foundations from the beginning. ?While I had the title "Lead Pastor", the other founding pastor was as involved and invested in the church as I was. ?In many respects, he was the "more founding pastor" in terms of the catalyst to move forward and start when we did. ?Much of the language of our original foundational documents were written by him. ?So that part worked out okay — and I am convinced that under his leadership, given five to ten years, he will lead the church well beyond where it was when I left.

That said, there were some very practical issues that were potentially serious problems in the transition. ?Way too much organizational knowledge was trapped in my head. ?Because we did not have an?administrator?(I fulfilled this role in addition to lead pastor), pretty much every account we had was set-up by me and I was the one who knew the passwords. ?This was true for vendors, bank accounts, credit cards, web domain registration, etc. ?This was even true of small things like changing the pass codes on the safe or front door, changing the voice mail system, etc.

It took almost a full year after I left before we had sorted out all of those details. ?I routinely got calls from staff people during that year asking me for pass codes, information about accounts or vendors, or questions on how to do X or Y. ?This is where the church got lucky again. ?In every case, I gave them the info they needed. ?Sometimes this took me doing lots of research through my files or old emails, making calls to vendors, etc. ?But I did it every time because I cared about the mission of the church. ?Under the circumstances of how I left, I could certainly imagine other pastors not being as cooperative with the process. ?In that case, the church would have paid a great price.

The lesson? ?All that information should have been documented in one central location, accessible by other staff and the board. ?Today, I would set it up through a Google Spreadsheet and it would include all of our accounts, vendors, sales reps, insurance contacts, information about dates insurance payments are due or policies renewed, leases, passwords, etc. ?These documents can be encrypted for security reasons and also updated constantly. ?This alone would have made the transition much easier.

Here are some other things I have learned contribute to a healthy transition:


The general rule of thumb is that the higher you are in an organization, the ore notice you should give. ?Executives should be thinking in terms of months, not weeks. ?This last time, for me, even though I was not an executive at all, I was able to give almost a full month's notice. ?I think this honors your current employer and I don't know many new employers who won't respect that. ?It also gives plenty of time to help work through the transition without leaving big holes.


This one may be controversial, because some people, when they find out you are looking elsewhere, may simply let you go or?sabotage?the process. But generally speaking, I think it is important to let senior management know that you are considering (or being considered for) a position BEFORE it is a done deal. ?In general, I try not to surprise my bosses or keep secrets from them. ?In this last transition, I think that was very helpful. ?It also meant that I could get from them constructive input into the process and decision making. This was very helpful to me.


Give permission to your current employer to change your responsibilities and job description once you give notice. ?It may be best to phase out of certain projects or areas of responsibility, or even to take on certain new ones for a short period. ?It may be appropriate to help train replacements, or it may be best not to. ?Trust their judgement and leadership and make it as easy as possible for them.


And in general, always act with integrity — because?integrity?always wins. ?This means communicate well, work hard until the very end, maintain?quality?standards until the end, and give your best work on your last day!

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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Uncategorized


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