Transitioning to a new role ushers in big opportunities for growth and development, but it can also mean leaving behind a valued, trusted team of individuals you care for deeply. As you plan your departure from your current role, the steps you take — or lack thereof — can set your team up for success, or render them aimless, frustrated, and struggling to meet goals under new leadership.
Much of helping your team when you transition to a new job revolves around ensuring your successor has access to the information, contacts, resources, and institutional knowledge you’ve relied on to successfully complete the job. But you’ll also want to make sure that your team members have the opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions before you depart. Here’s how to make this transition as seamless as possible.
Your successor will come into the role with their own leadership style, productivity hacks, and communication skills, and they’ll develop personal preferences for how work gets done and by whom as they mature in the job. But as the departing manager, you can prime the incoming manager for success by documenting as much about the job and its responsibilities ahead of time as possible.
“The transition document should outline all key responsibilities and identify key steps, contacts, and dependencies for success,” said Kent Lewis, President and founder of integrated marketing agency Anvil Media. “The document should also include links to relevant resources, networks documents, and organizations.”
You’ll want to log operational procedures, like your company’s approach to onboarding new clients, but also make sure to note subjective observations, such as team strengths and weaknesses. Precisely what you need to document will depend on the role and company, but at the minimum you should include:
Rolf Bax, CHRO of Resume.io, a resume building website, recommended using video recording software like Loom to document any instructional portions of your turnover documentation. Individuals can use Loom to record video messages of their screen, camera, or both, which means departing managers can quickly create an explanatory video while scrolling through processes, locating files and folders, or simply sharing a message to welcome the incoming manager to the team.
“This allows the outgoing manager to walk the incoming manager through various workflows by using the screen-sharing feature,” Bax said. In doing so, you equip the new manager with permanent access to tutorials on how to complete potentially complicated processes.
As the departing manager, you’re responsible for ensuring your replacement has the tools and knowledge required to do the job. But you’re also on the hook for making sure your team members have the resources they need for success in the wake of your departure. What’s more, great managers are empathetic, and work to ensure employees are comfortable with transitions like these by encouraging an open dialogue.
Derin Oyekan, entrepreneur and cofounder of sustainable toilet paper company Reel Paper, advised setting aside time to speak with employees to gauge how the transition is affecting the team. “You’ll want to get a sense of how they’re feeling about the upcoming changes,” he said. “They’re the ones who will be around after you’ve left, and it’s important to address their concerns before you depart.”
Enter into these conversations with the understanding that some team members may feel more comfortable with the change, while others may need additional support. Oyekan recommended holding group sessions to start, but making additional time available to speak privately with individuals who may be struggling with the transition.
You can also set aside time for employees to share concerns in less formal settings. For example, you could reserve a conference room or set up a Zoom meeting for 30 minutes per day in the two weeks leading up to your departure and issue an open invitation for employees to drop by.
Nelson Sherwin, Manager of PEO Companies, a professional employment organization advising company, said this open-door daily exercise is helpful for everyone. “People are free to come and go as they please to ask questions or share information,” he noted. “It also allows the departing manager the opportunity to disseminate knowledge to their soon-to-be former coworkers and employees.”
By fostering an open dialogue around your departure, you reiterate your respect for the team, alleviate employee fears, and ensure team members have the knowledge they need to get the job done in your absence.
After your departure is announced, your team will likely have a lot of questions, such as where you’re going, what your new title will be, and, most sensitively, why you’re leaving.
Exiting a job gracefully requires forethought and framing. Burning bridges is rarely in anyone’s best interests, so you want to scrutinize what you’ll tell your team members about why you’re leaving. Some reasons for departing a role are appropriate to share with employees, like if you’re making a transition from the corporate world to a startup or nonprofit, or if a new role gives you the flexibility you need to care for a family member.
“If you got a better job opportunity or are relocating, or [if] there are other external circumstances, it’s likely safe to share that news with your team,” said Caitlin Proctor, Content Manager at resume and job search site ZipJob.
Other motivations behind your departure, like you’ve grown disenchanted with senior leadership or are no longer passionate about the company’s mission, are better left unsaid. “You should avoid pinning your exit on something you’re leaving behind, but your team isn’t, such as a change in leadership or new business processes,” Proctor stressed.
A good rule of thumb is to only share a reason that you would feel comfortable with your new employer hearing about. “Err on the side of caution and keep your reasons for leaving focused on the positive,” advised Proctor. “Examples of this include, ‘I’m helping a new company build a team from scratch,’ or, ‘I’m going back to what I did before this role — I’ve missed product marketing!’”
Help your team by carving out time to train your replacement one-on-one before leaving the company. While this may not always be possible given the timelines of departing and incoming managers, if it’s a possibility — seize it. Your team will be glad you did.
In-person or virtual hands-on training can smooth an otherwise rough transition by contextualizing the role for the new manager. By setting aside this time, you’ll be able to explain the tasks of the job — this is what we do, this is how we do it, and this is why we do it — and, equally important, embrace the incoming manager as part of the team. Getting to know the incoming manager will allow you to facilitate a more authentic introduction to the team. And if your team sees you feel comfortable and confident in the new manager’s ability and approach, they will, too.
When you’re preparing to begin a new job, you might be tempted to wrap everything up at your current role as quickly as possible so you can move on, and putting the extra time and effort into your soon-to-be previous job can seem burdensome and unnecessary. But thoughtful steps, like spending one-on-one time with your successor and allowing employees to share their concerns and ask questions, can go a long way toward making the transition smooth and successful. As a manager who values the success of the team you’ve spent a significant time leading and wants to see them continue to thrive, it’s well worth it.