Nothing is permanent. Nobody hangs on to a job or a leadership position forever. In many positions there is no expectation of longevity. Entry level positions hold no attraction for the long term. People are expected to come and go, and few really “make a statement” in their tenure, unless it is for something really bad or outrageous. Mid-level positions are usually held a bit longer, and when someone leaves they may be remembered for a number of years if they stood out for some reason such as being extremely diligent, efficient, funny, empathetic or generous. Most memories are about personal traits rather than quality of work.
When the subject is leaders the quality of the discussion changes quite a bit. Leaders are expected to have an impact on an organization, so the memories will be about whether they did or did not, and whether the impact was positive or negative. Whether they intend to or not, every leader leaves a legacy. This is true no matter what the reason for their departure. The reasons for departing a position can include:
- · Retirement
- · Moving on to another challenge within the organization through promotion
- · Voluntarily seeking new challenges outside the organization
- · Being asked to resign
- · Being downsized out of the organization
- · Being fired and shoved out the door.
How each situation is handled by the organization should be consistent with the culture and the values of that organization. If values include treating everyone with respect and allowing every employee to maintain their dignity, then those values should be followed all the way through separation and beyond. How the organization handles these situations says as much about their culture and brand as how they relate to customers and vendors.
Looking at these events through the eyes of the employee who is moving on offers a different perspective. These moments are fraught with emotions, many of them negative. The risks of negative behavior are great and thus the risks of putting a negative cap on a legacy are great as well. Except for the leader voluntarily retiring, each other category is made up of people who wish to continue their career somewhere, so the previous stops on their journey are important to explain, are important to their career narrative.
Individuals separating from an organization need to think about the legacy they leave. Even if it is partially negative (“he wasn’t up to the job” or “she was never able to mobilize the troops”), it can have positive elements (“he left on a positive note”, “she didn’t burn any bridges”, “she made the transition seamless”).
Too many individuals leave the organization with a mess. Files are not in order (or worse, are sabotaged), a toxic environment is encouraged, negativity runs rampant. Those that do not leave their house in order leave a negative legacy that may follow them in their career. Setting feelings aside is important. How one leaves is as important as how one operated while on the job. Even in the rare case where a firing may create a legitimate lawsuit, the terminated party should behave well and not sink to the level of those that wronged him or her. What does that look like?
Use the usual two weeks after notice of termination has been given (assuming the employer keeps the employee on for those two weeks) to:
- · Get all work in order so that whoever picks it up can immediately understand status, relevant contacts, etc.
- · Make sure all correspondence and e-mail are kept so that the chain of events can be easily followed.
- · Make sure that the message being given to clients and vendors is consistent with what the company is saying.
- · Clean out personal stuff- e-mails, office décor and knick-knacks.
- · Don’t leave any “time bombs”- work with deadlines coming up shortly. Make sure others are aware so things can be jumped on quickly.
- · Finish what you have promised to finish.
- Keep communicating with the transition team.
- · Live up to the non-compete and confidentiality agreements if they were a condition of employment.
- · Return all company property.
- · Settle all expense reimbursements in a timely manner.