“Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Shakespeare had it right, and not just when it comes to love. That phrase can resonate equally well when we find it is time to move on to a new job or company. Even the best of leaders in the best of companies may find it necessary to make a move at some point in their career. Have you ever stayed in a position when it was no longer beneficial to you, frozen by pangs of separation? When is it time to go? The go-or-stay decision could be one of the most critical career decisions you make. Here are some considerations.
The Party’s Over
Most of us join a company expecting to be there until we retire, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Events or circumstances often lead us to that crucial decision to depart:
– Been there, done that. The challenge is gone. The work seems repetitive and the opportunity for new challenges appears dim. You’re concerned that your skills will atrophy in this static environment. It is time to go.
– Company-itis. Your company is sick. Revenue is down, profits are a thing of the past, and expenses have been cut to the bone. Understanding whether the company is in a death spiral or just suffering a temporary down cycle can be the key to a quality decision on your part. Hard times can be full of opportunities for dedicated employees willing to stick it out, so be sure to consider that before making the decision to leave.
– A new order. Reorganizations can derail careers. Roles change, power shifts, new players emerge. All the effort in building a relationship and credibility with your boss feels wasted when a new leader arrives. If you think the investment necessary to re-establish relationships will be too great, then it may be time to leave. But be sure to recognize that any new opportunity in another company will require an even greater investment without the support of your established network.
– A tarnished image. Does your star shine less brightly? Your status may have changed in the company. Unfortunately, performance appraisals are not always good clues to how you are perceived. Assess the environmental clues. Are you listened to? Is your advice sought? Do you get invited to the key meetings? Do your compensation and perks match your contributions? Keeping a heads-up approach to understanding your value will enable you to see its diminution early. If the situation can’t be corrected, it may be time to leave.
There are also other signals that can provide encouragement for making that move. Maybe you hit the glass ceiling. Alternatively, if you’ve had a significant failure in a risk-averse company, you may not be able to recover. Even a major success can be a trigger (“How can she ever top that?”). Whatever the reasons, making the decision to move requires careful thought and lots of courage.
I’m Out of Here
When the big decision is made, you need to prepare. Do not go directly to the nearest exit. This is not a fire drill. Take the time to make the transition smoothly.
– Have a destination. Always plan to go to something better than your current situation. Do not run just because you’re in an unpleasant situation, no matter how tempting it may be. Know why you are leaving and that your new situation will not have the same (or worse) issues. Know the details of the new job, company and culture before accepting the position.
– Let your head rule. Breaking up is hard to do. Acknowledge the difficulty of leaving colleagues and friends, but let your intellect drive the decision. During one of my moves, a colleague tried to dissuade me by pointing to the loss of the network I had built in the company (my groupies, as he referred to them). This was a powerful emotional tie, but I made the move as planned. For me, it was the right decision, though I still have fond memories of my groupies.
– Face forward. Once the decision is made, move forward with confidence. The best part of our career is always ahead of us. Constantly rethinking and waffling on the decision are debilitating. The decision will be right for you because you will make it right.
– Keep it quiet. Discretion is the best approach during this period. Keep your deliberations to yourself, and use as small a circle of advisers as possible until the official communication. Maintain your commitment to your current responsibilities. The facts will surface at the right time. No comments from you will stop the rumours anyway.
– Demonstrate amazing grace. Leave with grace and dignity. Now is not the time to blast the company on all its shortcomings. Be grateful for the advantages you had and the experience you gained. Don’t burn bridges; in doing so, you may eliminate future opportunities. I actually worked for the same company twice in my career, and it even tried to bring me back a third time. I decided not to try for a record.
– Clean up. Leave the organization in good shape. Finish any commitments that fall within the time frame of your departure. Complete performance appraisals for your people. In a transition plan for your successor, identify any burning issues.
– R.I.P. Expect your legacy to be devalued once you leave. Everything that goes wrong is blamed on the departed leader. Fortunately, this is a short-term phenomenon. Time has a way of validating great leaders.
– Let go. When you leave, let go of everything but the relationships. Your contacts can add to the strength of your network and provide support in your new role.
Please Don’t Give In To…
There are many paths to an effective move, but there are some things that should definitely be avoided.
– Ego trips. When looking at new opportunities, you can easily get caught up in the thrill of the search. While an enthusiastic reception is satisfying for the ego, make sure the other elements of the offer fit your objectives too, or the enthusiasm will be fleeting for everyone.
– Irrational exuberance. Your decision to leave (or stay) should be founded on solid reasoning. Don’t be impetuous.
– Analysis paralysis. Once decided, just do it!
– Power of the known. The known may feel safer than the unknown, but often it is not. Do your research to dispel some of the mystery of the new situation. Part of the excitement of a new situation is what is yet to be experienced.
– Buyer’s remorse. At some point within the first three months in a new job, you will have a panic attack. You have discovered some of the issues of the new. Recognize this for what it is, and embrace the challenges for success.
Whatever you decide, good luck.
Before retiring in 1999, Patricia Wallington was corporate vice-president and CIO at Xerox. She is now president of CIO Associates in Sarasota, Fla.