The hard thing about hard things: When a manager decides to quit

By the way, I’m the manager

Employees quit. Everyone has their reasons. There are many articles about why one should quit, but there are almost none about what should one do when he or she eventually decides to quit. I haven’t found any articles discussing “the hard time of a manager”, who leads people, and yet chooses to quit. In this post, I want to share my personal experience as a manager who has decided to quit his job and the path I’ve taken to make sure that my departure will be as smooth as possible.

I don’t believe in hiding

In this post, I don’t want to discuss whether leaving is the right decision or not. What’s important is the fact that I, you or anyone has made a decision.

I don’t believe in looking for a job in secret. I don’t want to lie and hide from my colleagues in order to leave early for some interviews. Quite often, people will start to feel that something is wrong, and no one can actually be himself when you are constantly worried. If you think about it, this is the exact opposite of what you’d want to do. In an ideal situation, you would publicly announce that you are available and looking for your next challenge. Why limit yourself only to the few people that you know or to that annoying LinkedIn recruiter that stalks you for the last 3-years? You want to ask for new connections from your friends or your past and existing managers; this way you might discover amazing places that you’d never find by looking discreetly only by yourself.

Having that said, I think that this is not the most important reason not to hide. You respect your manager, you’ve always been transparent with him. Mutual trust is probably one of your values. There’s no reason to stop it now. There’s no need to disappoint him, keep your values and trust until the end.

There are some reasons that justify being totally discrete about the situation. One reason might be if you are afraid that your manager will push you out of the company after you tell him that you want to leave. Another one might be if it is actually dangerous for your manager to know that you are going to leave since he will try to sabotage you. Frankly, I’ve never actually heard about the latter, but we live in a crazy world, so you better know who you are working for and who you’ll be leaving.

I value the place I left behind

It is a sunny day outside, you enter your manager’s office and close the door. Out of nowhere, you hand him your letter of resignation and officially start your 30 days’ notice.

I think it is cruel.

As a manager, you’re responsible for the people who report to you, the different product domains, the technologies and other wide variety of responsibilities that you have in the company.

Therefore, you cannot just leave and let someone else figure out how to manage all of that and not to anticipate everything falls apart.

I value the place I work for. I want it to succeed with and without me. I care so much about the people, the product and the company as a whole. I want my people to be happy and keep growing. I don’t want to create “fires”, I want everything to keep working. I want to be able to tell everyone that I’ve worked for that awesome place in the past and that they would not only recognize the name but also agree that it is indeed awesome. This reason is why I think that as a manager, my last responsibility is to create a draft of a plan that takes care of everyone and everything in the best possible way before I leave.

4 Steps process

In my opinion the process of leaving a company includes four steps:

  1. “Shields down” and removing bottlenecks
  2. Telling your manager and building a plan
  3. Telling your team and basically everyone else
  4. You leaving

#1. Shields down phase

The process of you quitting doesn’t start when you first tell your manager. No, it begins when you decide, deep inside within yourself, that it is time for you to leave. That is when you put your shields down. Think about all the places that you’ve left. You didn’t just wake up one day and decided to tell it to your manager. You decided after struggling for a while with the thought of leaving. Then, this is usually when people start to look for their next job and only after they find it, they decide to share.

I think that instead of looking outside for your next job, you should rather look inside and start taking care of your people.

Are you a bottleneck?

This is the time that you need to start working on the plan. What unique knowledge do you possess? What unique responsibilities do you have? What is the team’s roadmap and is it clear to everyone? Are you a bottleneck or a critical piece in the company process? Being a manager usually puts you in this position.

I think that you should use this time to remove yourself from the center. Stop being the only one who leads and manages the project or the meetings. Delegate as much as you can to your team members. If you can’t delegate, then share the missing context and required information. You won’t stay there for long, don’t hold anything that your team must know. You also need to teach them the hard and soft skills that you possess. For example, make sure that they can run a sprint planning and also talk to their product manager.

Take a look at the team’s culture. Will it stick without you? Do all the team members embrace your routines and culture hacks? If not then make sure everyone understand why you believe in them. Make sure the team shares your values.

#2. Telling your manager phase

Frankly, for me, it was the toughest part. This part is when it got real. It was no longer just a thought. It was actually happing. Telling my manager, who never saw it coming, was very hard.

The key elements of this phase are the following:

  • I’m not running away from my responsibilities
  • I’ll help him create a plan (with plan B and even C) for all the people who report to me regarding new managers, teams responsibilities and every other area that I own in the company.
  • I’m leaving, but the timing is flexible (not too long but it is not yet a 30 days’ notice).

I cannot say that building the plan is easy; nothing is easy in this situation. Especially when you cannot tell your team that you are leaving. Concealing it is hard; this is why you need to put 300% effort in working on the plan. Could one of the existing team members step up and replace you? Or maybe a different manager in the company should be the replacement? Will the team remain as a whole or is it better to take it apart and split across the company?

These are hard questions. But you should be the one who deals with them.

After you have an initial plan and you’ve verified it with your manager, it is time to start checking it with others. You and your manager begin telling it to key people into this situation and verify your assumptions with them. This is actually the beginning of the last phase.

#3. Telling your team and everyone else phase

This phase is also a very hard. It starts with your team members; when you tell the people you care about the most that you are going to leave them. Those are the difficult conversations you are going to have. Most of them are deeply surprised, disappointed and sometimes even mad. You need to be understanding, explain your reasons and let them know that it’s going to be alright. Your manager and others will kick in and start talking with your team members, trying to understand how they are and what do they think about the different options (the plan A, B and C that you’ve created) they have for their future. They are not being thrown into the unknown.

I must say that although it is tough to tell them that you are leaving, it is also a huge relief. It is hard to keep secrets from the people you care about. So finally telling them the truth is a huge relief.

An official announcement will be shared after you’ve told your team, your friends and those who should have heard it from you. Now it is public. You’ll start receiving messages from many people both inside and outside the company. The first day is really tough. You’ll have many people talking to you trying to understand your reasons. Even though you have had a few of these conversations, it is still hard. But the best part is that you no longer need to hide. Hence, you can finally start to focus on yourself.

#4. You leaving phase

I’ve seen many people leave their job. Lots of them were working hard until their last day; I even know someone who gave a presentation to the company chairman on his last day. It sounds good, but it is not. Actually, it is awful for the company or the team to have a leaving member working full time until their last day. That means he’s leaving will be sudden and probably much painful. You don’t want your team member to fix those tough bugs by themselves until the end, who will do it in the next day when he’s gone? How will the team keep going if the person who is in charge of the process and progress keeps being in charge until the end?

Step down, but be there to hold their hand

Use this time to step down, let your replacement lead instead of you. Let others deal with the things you were in charge of. It will be hard, and they will fall, but it is OK because you are still there. You are not disappearing right away, you simply let others do the things you were doing. And now you can still help them behind the scenes. Talk with them, share more knowledge, methods, and tips. Keep checking on them, make sure they are doing alright and help them where there’s the need to. They won’t get much help after you are gone.

The plan isn’t always smooth

No matter how hard will you work on the potential plans, sometimes they might not work. You cannot predict everyone’s reaction. People who you think that will stay, might leave. And those whom you were counting on become leaders may reject the opportunity. That’s OK. Be there and help if you are asked for help, but remember that they are great and super talented people. They’ll figure it out.

Start looking for a job

By stepping down, you’ll let others lead the way. You remove yourself from the critical part and the center of attention. This phase is the time when you should finally focus on yourself. They will find you if someone needs you. Now start thinking about the future. Let everyone know that you are looking for your next challenge. Meet old friends and former colleagues. Learn about where they work. Ask for leads to different companies and people. Extend your horizons, don’t go to the same place everyone has gone to. Use this opportunity to discover unfamiliar places. Eventually, decide on the place that will get you excited.

Final words

I agree very much with the saying that a company is not a family. However I still care deeply about them.

Leaving a company is hard. Being a manager who leaves his people is even harder. That is why it is so important to do it right. Focus on the people you care about; make sure you have everyone and everything covered. Also, make sure the fact that you are leaving is as harmless as possible. In all, focus on them, focus on the company and then focus on yourself.

This is your last responsibility as a manager.

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