Knowledge Center: Publication

3 Mistakes Executives Make When Telling People That They’re Leaving

7/27/2017 Kelly O. Kay

Senior leaders in Silicon Valley are among the best-educated, most sophisticated, and savviest executives you’ll find anywhere. Yet over the course of placing senior high-tech leaders in new positions over the past 14 years, I’ve seen far too many make fundamental mistakes that cast a cloud over their leaving their old employers. The consequences range from the distasteful to the disastrous: hurt feelings, lasting resentment from former colleagues, blame for harming the company, and — worst of all — a reputation for thoughtlessness that can damage a career. It’s painful to witness, and it begs the question: If they can’t get it right, who can?

Other than the admonition to resign diplomatically, little detailed advice has been available about how to leave one’s current company the right way. Even less research has been done on leaving well. To close that gap, my firm undertook a national survey of more than 700 senior executives and human resources officers. Only 16% of the senior executives reported that they would have done nothing differently the last time they voluntarily resigned. Here are their top three regrets and what you can do to avoid their mistakes:

Being unprepared to be fired on the spot. You never know how much resentment your departure might evoke, or how harsh the response might be. In the worst-case scenario, you could be fired on the spot and escorted from the building immediately. Especially if you’re going to a competitor, don’t be surprised if your resignation turns into a termination. Almost all of a representative sample of senior executives and chief human resources officers we interviewed to supplement our survey said that someone leaving for a competitor would be terminated immediately.

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Kelly O. Kay Partner +1 415 902 6006