STOP BURNING BRIDGES

by Matt Thomas

Some time ago I worked in construction building new homes for first time home buyers. I worked alongside one exceptionally surly superintendent who had made the rounds in the industry for decades. He had stops at a minimum of six homebuilders that I could count, and didn’t make it to Wednesday without threatening to walk out. One day I looked down the block where we were both building homes and saw my co-worker in a yelling match with one of his homeowners. At least twenty of our trades had stopped their work to enjoy the show. Later that day back in the office he had cleared out his desk and written some colorful language on the company whiteboard. Apparently he thought all of his team members, including me, were a special kind of number one.

Later that day back in the office he had cleared out his desk and written some colorful language on the company whiteboard. Apparently he thought all of his team members, including me, were a special kind of number one.

A week or two went by and I heard through a few of our trades that this gentleman was having a difficult time finding a job. Apparently he had burned so many bridges in the construction industry that he had joined the “hot mess express” club. Not a list anyone wants to be on.

It is fairly common for us to get a call from a client fresh off losing an employee and in need of a replacement. In these calls we often get the raw emotion that comes with transition. Some mix of rejection, anger, and panic. Unfortunately it is becoming more and more common for employees to leave poorly. They seem to believe that how they leave isn’t very important. They could not be more wrong.

Unfortunately it is becoming more and more common for employees to leave poorly. They seem to believe that how they leave isn’t very important. They could not be more wrong.

Job transitions are a part of life and career paths rarely unfold like we think they will. Gone are the days of decades of employment with one company. On average, employees will stay in their current jobs somewhere between 4-5 years before making a jump to another company. Remote work, the gig economy, and the ever present draw of entrepreneurship have accelerated these timelines in the past few years. Taking advantage of a new opportunity isn’t a bad thing, it’s normal. But how you transition to that new opportunity and out of your current job matters. It’s more important than you think.

Taking advantage of a new opportunity isn’t a bad thing, it’s normal. But how you transition to that new opportunity and out of your current job matters.

I shake my head when I hear sales and marketing types talk about networking and social capital. As if the number of people who know your name counts for something. It’s not how many people know who you are and what you do that matters, it’s what they think when they hear your name. Did you treat people with respect? Did you go about your business with humility? Were you personable? Approachable? Teachable? A good human? These are the things that matter most when it comes to your reputation. Not what you do, who you are.

Job transitions are inflection points in our lives where who we really are is on full display. We don’t get many do-overs so it’s important to exit the right way. Here are a couple quick tips for those starting a transition:

Communicate Early and Often

The only people worried about getting canned if they announce their departure too soon are either A. working in a toxic environment or B. already on the chopping block. Two weeks notice is a minimum. Thirty days is better, especially if you are running point on an important project or managing a sales pipeline.

Keep Up the Pace

Do not be the team member who starts showing up late or leaving early once you’ve announced your transition. Your co-workers and manager will be inordinately attentive to your workflow and commitment level. Don’t give them any reason to think you are anything less than all in as long as you are on the payroll.

Say Thank You

Carve out time each day to say thank you to as many people as you can. A short hand written note, a 5 minute conversation in the break room, or even a quick email can go a long way. Let your co-workers, employees, and managers know that you’re grateful for the opportunity to work alongside them.

Leaving well is a no-brainer. If you’re headed for a transition start thinking now about how to do it well. There’s never a good reason to burn a bridge on the way out. Go get ‘em.