How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

Writing as I am at a table in a home in the Netherlands, the abdication by our queen and subsequent coronation of her son is something which makes me wonder how you prepare your successor for a job you’ve had for a long time – possibly decades, although that doesn’t happen very often.

Leave Your Job In An Orderly Fashion

Harvest [click to view image by Vilseskogen on Flickr]

With many jobs, the role remains in some shape where the individuals leave. Unless we run a family business, we don’t (consciously) prepare our children to do our own job – to become our successors.

So how do we prepare our jobs to be taken over by successors we may hardly know?

How to leave your job in an orderly fashion

I’ve left a few jobs behind me over the years, though not one I’d done for 30-odd years. Even so I’ve learned a couple of things so far about handing over your tasks to your successor. Here’s my pick-and-mix harvest:

  1. Don’t postpone documenting your tasks until you can see the exit outlined. Make documenting essential procedures a normal part of your routine. It’ll give you something to refer interns or new coworkers to. If anything changes, you’ll be able to check (and show) quickly where your own tasks are affected.
  2. List every task you can think of and write down everything worth knowing for every task on your list. (check if current procedures are up to date)
  3. Make sure you distinguish between priorities #1 and the rest. Don’t pretend everything you do is equally important.
  4. Don’t believe for a second you’ll be able to document 100% of what you do, how you do it, and why you do it.
  5. Don’t believe for a second that nothing will or should change after you leave. You’ll give them a way to keep going without you, until they decide to do things differently.
  6. If you remember why you follow a certain procedure, add your reasons. Those reasons will help your successor understand why a seemingly dull task is important – and if they change anything, they’ll know what to keep or whom to check with before they skip that part.
  7. For preference, have your successor in place before you leave. If you can’t, haul in a coworker who’s not about to leave in the next month or so and have them perform the most essential task from your list. Then improve your documentation accordingly. Including: “If you’re not sure, ask Jake.”
  8. Depending what branch you’re working in (at your next job) give your successor anywhere from 2 days to 1 month to call you if they have any questions.
  9. Leave.

This is all under the assumption that you and your employer are on good terms when you leave.

A royal exit for everyone

Whether or not you were happy at the job you leave behind, don’t make enemies on the way out. If you hated everything about your job, smile on your way to the door. You’re leaving, remember? You can afford to give your ex-colleagues a final royal wave.

How have you left your previous job(s)? Have I left any important bits out?

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