Lingering is bad for business

The FT ran an article last month which resonated considerably with me. The thrust of the piece was that lengthy goodbyes are not good for business.

What is the point of these lengthy handovers? Once your departure is announced, your authority leaves with it. Your mind, however hard you try, is surely turning to what you do next.

It went on to cite three examples: Angela Ahrendts who is leaving Burberry, Steve Ballmer who is stepping down as chief executive of Microsoft and Sir Nicholas Hytner who is retiring as director of Britain’s National Theatre.

In each case there is a lengthy gap – up to 18 months – before the departees actually depart.

My recent experience of retiring after 30 years at RBI has taught me that the less time between the announcement and the departure the better. In my case we informed the company at the end of September and my actual agreed leaving date was today – quite a short period, it seems, in senior business circles.

Even so, I could see the problems of an extended stay. The process of announcing your departure follows a pretty set pattern. The announcement goes out and there are (hopefully) general expressions of shock and dismay. Shortly afterwards, though, people’s attention turns to what and who comes next. Then the emails get less frequent and there are slightly fewer meetings. You can see the calculation in people’s minds as they work out whether you are going to be around for the conclusion of whatever project you are being asked to validate or comment on. Quite quickly the organisation heals around your future absence. So the faster you get out the better for everybody.

This reaction is entirely healthy: companies exist for what they can do in the present and the future and not what they have done in the past. Once a departure date has been announced you become part of the past – better to acknowledge it and move along gracefully. I agree with the FT: no good can come of the lengthy goodbyes.

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