As an engineering manager, you’ve created tons of onboarding plans for new starters. But what about when someone is leaving the company? Or when you’re leaving yourself?
Let me paint you a picture: you’ve been with your organization for some time, you like your role, you love your team, and you enjoy the work. You care about the organization and the people involved. But a new, unforeseen opportunity comes your way with a lot more challenges to learn from.
So what do you do as an engineering leader once you’ve decided to quit your job? How can you curate an offboarding plan that will ensure the smoothest departure possible and empower your team to succeed without you?
Here I’m sharing my three steps for managing the offboarding process, from communicating with your manager and telling your team to creating the go-forward plans.
Step 1: Communicate transparently with your manager
The first step is to share the news with your manager. Be transparent about how you want the news of your departure to be conveyed to your team and the wider teams. Be firm on this. And have a clearly established date in mind for your last day. It’s important to come up with this plan so folks have enough time for the transition.
Step 2: Tell the team – and be humble, candid, and kind
When it comes to telling your team, I’m a great believer that everyone deserves clarity. The last thing you want is unfounded speculation about your departure. Be prepared that they will have a lot of questions, for example:
- ‘Where are you going?’
- ‘Why are you leaving?’
- ‘When are you leaving?’
- ‘Do you know who will replace you?’
- ‘What happens to all the career decisions and plans we made together?’
It’s okay to not have all the answers at that point, but it’s fair to answer them as honestly as possible. It’s important to recognize that your departure puts your team in a very vulnerable place. And so transparency is the right step in helping them calm their nerves about the future.
Step 3: Create the go-forward plans
Depending on your role and organization, there are many things you might need to create go-forward plans for. But there are two broad areas to focus on: assigning clear ownership for ongoing projects and briefing your replacement leader(s) on your direct reports.
Assigning clear ownership for ongoing projects
First, create a list of things, projects, or systems that you own. Then reach out to people who’d be now interested or would be able to support being the new owners of various entities. Finally, list all of this information down in the tool that your organization uses (while clearly listing down all the assumptions).
If you’re working on multiple engineering initiatives in your organization, ask your manager if you or they can identify someone else to champion those initiatives once you leave so they’re not dropped from everyone’s radar.
If you’re working on multiple projects with your team, clearly communicate the status of each with everyone involved, as well as their future plans. And let the stakeholders know how your departure may (or, hopefully, may not) affect the timelines.
Don’t forget to define and delegate clear ownership for the hiring pipeline for all the roles that you’re currently recruiting for. It’s important to reevaluate who’s going to be the current hiring manager for those roles.
Briefing your replacement leader(s) on your direct reports
When I was managing my offboarding, I spent time organizing a folder for all the direct reports with the following information:
- Previous performance reviews (while adding notes to certain points wherever necessary)
- Relevant 1:1 docs
- Career planning documents
- ‘Highlight’ packets for each of your reports. To create the ‘highlight’ packets, work with the individuals on your team to compile this information:
- Their preferred work environment in which they can produce their best results
- Their strengths and weaknesses
- Their performance motivators (everyone is driven by different motivational needs and desires – performance improves when personal motivators are included in the work environment)
- Their personal growth areas (areas where they can upskill or do an even better job)
- Your communication strategy (the communication barriers and builders for this person)
- Salary conversations, if any (this is important to highlight since might not be comfortable talking about pay with new managers immediately)
- Promotion status, if any (you don’t want this information to get lost!)
When you’re creating your go-forward plans for new leaders, remember they need to be curated together with the people involved. This is also an excellent opportunity to give some candid, positive feedback to people who have worked with you. Finally, be aware that the person who replaces you may or may not use the plan at all, and that is completely okay.
As engineering leaders, we need to invest in our offboarding plans as much as we do our onboarding. It’s a great opportunity to share knowledge and set your team up for success in all the projects you’ve worked so hard on. Of course, it’s also important to accept that the value derived from all of your planning is somewhat beyond your control. It will be up to the new leader how much they follow your plans. So feel free to have candid conversations with your reports, as long as you’re not burdening them with any baggage. As someone wise once told me, people and their memories live longer than documents or organizations. And while you’re at it, take a deep breath and cut yourself some slack. You’re human after all.