During a weekend meeting with friends, the conversation turned to a familiar but less debated topic, i.e., how to leave an old role tactfully! Quite a spin on the usual topic of how to settle down in a new place!! I pondered over the various conversations I have had with many folks who had sought my advice over the years, and realized the existence of a common theme – no matter how long you have been in the company, no matter how eager you are to move to greener pastures, moving on is always nerve-wracking.

I then pored over my compendium on the topic, and gleaned the following “pearls of wisdom” on how to handle exits with aplomb:

  • Keep It Professional: As much as you are dying to play the role of a real critic and spew out dollops of criticism, please do remember that everyone is programmed by default to hear nice things! Highlight the reasons for your departure, such as a better opportunity or family reasons, and keep it dignified.
  • Convey It in Person to Your Manager: We are so tempted by technology, we sometimes forget the time-honored tenet that important news have to be conveyed in person and not via a device. Your manager needs to know it first, and make sure you get their consent, either implicitly or explicitly, before you share the big news with your colleagues.
  • Finish on a Great Note: This is one of the most important pieces of advice when it comes to exits. Very often, people switch off and do not realize the damage they are inflicting on themselves. People remember you last month, not your first month. Please ensure you put in your best until the very last day and sign off on a “no regret – regret” note– you have no regrets and they regret losing you!
  • Paperwork: It is very important for you to ensure you leave with an impeccable footprint at the time of exit. Have all decisions & approvals documented with relevant stakeholders, all people related matters logged with HR and all important documents stored. The more you document, the less the questions you are likely to be asked once you leave.
  • Integrity: Again, while obvious, an area quite a few folks miss out on! No lifting of anything which can even remotely be construed as company proprietary data or information. Leave the firm on a strong, ethical note. The number of folks I have been seen being penalized for “harmless data” is bigger than you’d expect.

While these are some of the guiding principles for smooth exits, a word or two on how to sustain the relationships you have built at the workplace:

  • Be Pragmatic: We expect our colleagues, especially during an emotionally charged exit atmosphere, to be in touch with us the way they were when we used to see them every day! Be practical enough to appreciate the frequency and intensity will reduce dramatically. We don’t need to look beyond the Oval Office to understand the stark difference between the person and the incumbent!
  • Help: An exit is the perfect platform for you to write LinkedIn recommendations for your colleagues or help people with skill set identification. People will remember you and want to stay connected when they see genuine career appreciation and advice being doled out to them. A mentee of mine leveraged this very well when he genuinely told folks that he could write LinkedIn recommendations without any fear or favor! And he stuck to his promise.
  • Consistency: Ensure you are transparent; in other words, anybody who meets you hears only version 1.0 of your reasons for exit. A friend of mine found himself in a sticky spot when his boss (who heard the “better opportunity” story) and his peer (who heard the “this place is terrible” story) came face to face.

An exit is a bridge to a new place. Since you are neither moving from the netherworld nor moving to Utopia, you never know when the forward march on the bridge from here to there can result in a U-turn and a return to your earlier firm or back working with a former colleague. So, keep it simple & transparent! As they say, “the most revealing part about a person’s character is how gracefully they exit from their environment.”


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