Off-boarding gracefully - setting your team up for success
I recently left my role as Director or User Research at Babylon. I had a three month notice period so I was able to have a fairly calm and smooth transition out of the business. There will likely be a gap before the person who is replacing me starts, so I had to make sure my team were equipped to function well without me / a leader. I thought it might be helpful for me to share how I went about this for anyone else in this position.
First was communication that I was leaving. This didn't happen right away after I handed in my notice because my manager wanted to be able to communicate what the plan / next steps were. This took a couple of weeks but a job description was drafted and approved whilst I negotiated my end date. I told my peers first so that my manager could get feedback on the plan for backfill from them. The news was then communicated with my direct reports - I did this one to one and then after that I told the rest of the team in small groups or one to one depending on if they were in our team meeting or not. I was as open and transparent as I could be about my reasons and told them the plan for backfill.
It was really important at this stage to let people catch up and process what was happening. Understandably people were upset (me too - telling people was the hardest part for me). A fair bit of thinking had taken place behind closed doors and mostly people needed time to reflect on what they were hearing and ask questions. I did lots of one to ones with everyone in the team and my peers.
Quickly we moved to advertising the open role. One of the best things my manager did was to include me in the process. She knew that I know the team best and asked for my thoughts and guidance on what skills and approach to leadership would be the best fit. I did a big push on LinkedIn and Twitter and had informal chats with people who reached out to me. It felt really good to have open and transparent conversations with people and I got some good feedback that this was a positive for those interested in the role too.
Next my attention turned to handing things over. I drafted really detailed hand over notes and started to hand over as much of the 'Ops' side of things as possible. I recorded a walk through of Ops processes and generally off-loaded as much of my brain as possible to everyone.
I structured my hand over notes around the Eight Pillars which was so helpful to structure my thoughts. I just hope it makes sense to the new person when they join!
The most important thing to consider was handing over my people! I reported to the most senior design practitioner within Babylon - the VP of Experience Design. She already had quite a number of direct reports and I had six people to hand over. My six people were also based in the UK whilst my manager was in the US. I was worried this would be untenable and had to think through an alternative to just giving them all to her.
After much discussion (eg do we have Research report into Design Managers for the interim) we decided to divide the team into two main groups and have a Manager over each area. This meant each manager taking on extra workload and managing new people but it felt important to keep researchers reporting to researchers as much as possible. I did final performance reviews and one to one transitions with each of my direct reports to their new manager. I also wrote up a doc with notes on everyone in the team ready for the new person - mainly so they can hit the ground running and get some overall context and history as well as know who needs a pay review and who is ready for promotion.
With the processes documented, the people org finalised, it was important to document the strategy and objectives we had planned together as a team. I pulled together a short deck summarising the org chart and pointing to our OKRs spreadsheet. The final thing I did in that last week was to have my last one to ones with my cross functional peers across Product and Design. I communicated the objectives and our plan for the next quarter, as well as who they should go to with queries once I was gone. I have left this deck with the team to use as a living strategy deck they can use / iterate upon.
Finally when all this was done it was time to say goodbye. I had managed to see many people in person at an off-site a couple of weeks before my last day. Being able to have in person chats and give hugs was way nicer than the Zoom good-bye we arranged for the final week.
When it came time to sign out of Slack for the last time, I decided to leave my team some parting thoughts to keep in mind until the new person joins.
These were my parting words:
...I thought I'd leave you with some parting thoughts. Throughout all of our work together we have had 4 key themes that I keep coming back to (and have a post it note on my desk):
Keep these things in mind as you continue all of your great work:
- Efficiency - Keep thinking about how you can do things efficiently and in a way that saves time and effort in future.
- Visibility - Stay visible, keep the insights you produce top of mind for the people you work with.
- Quality - Keep walking the line between scrappy and rigour. Ask for help and don't be afraid to fail and keep on learning.
- Connectedness - Most importantly, stay connected to each other and keep learning from each other and other people's work. Join the dots between these insights and bring them together in a cohesive story.
These four themes have become the Principles I have worked with at Babylon and may prove to be useful in my new role or even to other Research Leaders out there!
Starting a job well is really important but leaving a job well speaks volumes about you as a leader. I'm really glad I spent time and effort to set my team up for success. In the nicest possible way, I hope they don't really notice I am gone!