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Inner circle member? How to resign without burning bridges

Inner circle member? How to resign without burning bridges

In this article, I want to talk to you about how to resign the right way, especially if you are a part of the inner circle.

I think it is important you read this post because at some point in your life you will likely want to leave an organization. And you will want to leave an organization in a way whereby they don’t feel that you were selfish when you resigned, in a way so you don’t damage the relationship with people who may have very well gone above and beyond in helping you and grooming you.

inner circle how to resign

Being a part of the Inner circle

When you are a consultant, or an executive, you are either a part of the inner circle of key people that the organization relies on or not. This distinction matters.


Now, what defines the inner circle?

  • Are you a part of the inner circle if you have a specialized skill the organization needs?
  • Are you a part of the inner circle if you have some unique knowledge or connections that the organization requires?

No. That does not make you a part of the inner circle.

What makes you a part of the inner circle are three requirements that must be met at all times:

  • Does the leadership of the organization consider you to be important to the future of the organization?
  • Does the leadership of the organization rely on and listen to your opinion?
  • Does the leadership of the organization break rules for you?

Examples of what it means to be a part of the inner circle

I am going to give you some examples of these from my own career.

Does the leadership of the organization consider you to be important to the future of the organization?

I always was good at building relationships with senior people. When I was an analyst at the firm the managing director for that office used to speak to me a lot. He would come in on Monday morning, arriving late from whatever meeting he had to attend, and he would stop at my desk, if I was in, and tell me how his weekend went.

He would tell me whom he played golf with or whom he had dinner with over the weekend, or if he had a funny meeting with a client. He would discuss it with me in front of everyone. He has even shown me funny videos on his phone, in front of everyone.

I did not have any special skills at that point in my career and I was certainly not the best business analyst in the office. But I just got along much better with senior people.

And we got along enormously well. In fact, we got along so well that I remember one of my friends who worked at the knowledge center, the library for a lack of a better word, told me that people were advised not to be friends with me because I was so close to the managing director that if they did anything wrong or if they said anything it is going to get to managing director.

The managing director and other partners felt it was important enough to have a good relationship with me. They felt it was important to keep me locked-in to the network.

Does the leadership of the organization rely on and listen to your opinion?

Does the organization take your opinion seriously?

Let me give you an example involving that managing director. He attended a university with a very prominent woman in business and he wanted her to join the firm to head up some part of the business as a director or partner.

She was going through the recruitment process and I was asked to be one of the interviewers at round two. I interviewed this lady and I did not like her. I thought she was very entitled. And entitled in a bad sense of this word, not in a good sense of believing that she deserved to be successful no matter the odds that Kris often talks about.

Anyway, I did not think she would work hard and protect the firm’s values. It’s a common thing you notice about partners who retire. Many of them don’t work hard enough once they leave consulting.

And I remember telling the managing director in the office, “Look, I know she is your friend. I know you like her. But my personal feeling is that she is not going to work hard enough.

What do you think happened?

Well, you know you are part of the inner circle when there is no push back. They just take your opinion seriously.

I was an analyst at that time. I should not even be interviewing a partner level candidate, but they asked me to do it. Maybe they thought I would say yes. But I said no. There was no dispute. She never joined the firm.

So that is the second criteria.

Does the leadership of the organization break rules for you?

The 3rd criteria is they break rules for you.

As an example, it was an ongoing joke and ongoing example by the finance department in the office where I worked that I had the most ridiculous laundry bills. Everywhere I traveled I would give my shirts, which were quite expensive, to the most prestigious laundry service or dry-cleaning service in that city.

I remember once this really nice lady from the finance department, whom I really liked and respected, came to me and said, “I have done a calculation and I looked at how much you spend on dry-cleaning and I looked at how much your shirts cost. Why don’t you just buy new shirts and expense it to the company?

I was never reprimanded for this at all. No partner brought it up ever. The leadership simply decided this is one of the costs of keeping someone that they wanted within the business.

There are obviously guidelines and rules on expenses but I never really followed them.

As another quick example, my cell phone bill was more than my salary in some months because I just called everyone I needed to speak to, which can be costly on international engagements.

If you a part of the inner circle there are certain ways you resign

So these three criteria make you a part of the inner circle.

Now, if you are not part of the inner circle it’s ok. Not everyone can be a part of the inner circle. But you should be doing important work for the firm.

I would say that I was part of the inner circle no matter which firm I joined. I started off at a smaller firm and moved between firms. And no matter which firm I went to I became part of that firm’s circle of influence; when I was an analyst I was part of the influential analysts, then part of the influential associates, when I became a partner I was part of the influential partners.

And I remember sitting down with a managing partner when I was a partner and he was telling me some of the partners think that he goes a little bit too easy on me. And I said, “Look, the day I don’t deliver the values of the firm and stop adding value to clients is the day you can say that you are going too easy on me.”

So that day eventually came. It was not bad. Everyone has a bad engagement as a partner. It is normal.

But my point is this, if you are a part of the inner circle there are certain ways you resign and certain ways you don’t resign. I would say that even if you are not part of the inner circle, you resign as if you are a part of the inner circle because it shows a level of maturity and values, and allows you not to burn bridges on the way out.

How to resign

Now, I will talk you through two examples of the ways you should not resign and then I am going to talk you through the opposite of that, which is how to resign.

Here is the first example.

When I was a very young partner, I was noted for the way I trained people. So if you sent someone into my team it was well known that they will come up really well skilled because of the way I invested in training, mentoring and coaching people. Like now at FC, I also took training very seriously in the past.

And one of the things I did over my career was to pick certain people that I thought had enormous potential and work with them over many years to develop them. No matter their reputation in the firm, I made my own judgments.

There was one guy in particular that I really liked. Let’s call him Josh.

We worked together very closely after he came into the firm. He was a friend of one of the senior partners.

And that senior partner said, “Josh is very good. I can’t ask you to groom him but I think put him on one of your engagements. See how he does. And if you think Josh has potential I want you to take him through that training program that you take everyone through.”

So Josh came in and we worked together very closely. We grew to become pretty good friends actually, or so I thought. He was a good, reliable person that I could send to clients to deal with issues. Josh also took feedback well and I am a tough taskmaster.

We got to know each other very well socially and I thought we had a very good relationship. We socialized often outside work and with our families. He was clearly being groomed to replace me wherever I would end up. And Josh was under my wing all the way until the point when he was promoted to principal.

Everything was going well with Josh but I had a disagreement with his friend, the senior partner who brought him in. Shortly thereafter I remember coming in on a Monday morning and getting this email from that senior partner saying, “I spoke to Josh. He has come to me and said that he wants to move out of the strategy practice and go to the operations practice in a different city and this is his personal desire. So I am writing to you to see if you will be willing to release Josh ASAP and if you could expedite it it would be wonderful.

Now, imagine you spent 3 years, maybe even longer, training this person, grooming him, working with him very closely and you get an email from someone else, another partner, copying this principal whom you groomed, asking for the principal to be moved!

To me, when someone does that I am going to release them anyway because it is a betrayal.

Josh did not even have the courtesy to tell me he wanted to move. So I did not respond to this email immediately. I wanted to see what Josh would say. Because he was copied on it.

If Josh agreed with this and instigated it that is a different issue. If he did not agree with it and being forced into it I would expect him to come up to me and explain it to me.

So I did not say anything. I was waiting until midday. No response. I even walked by Josh’s desk to see how he is doing. He did not mention anything.

So I just decided to release him.

You can say that this is a shortsighted move. I invested so much time and effort, placed this guy into some of the most core clients I was working with.

But it is a very simple issue to me. Here is someone who knows you very well and chooses to leave not by telling you but by getting his friend to write an email, even no courtesy to call me, to ask to be released even though he knows that I invested so much time and built teams around him.

I released Josh by 1pm that day.

I just said, “Ok, no problem. We will make this happen.

Later on, I heard that Josh was very upset that I did not fight for him to stay in the practice. But here is my issue. Why did he not fight to stay in the practice?

One thing you will learn is that partnerships are personal decisions to work with people. And if you breach that trust there is a small chance you are going to work with someone again, if they can help it.

To me, that was a breach of trust. He did not had the courtesy to raise this with me. When the email went through he did not take the time to discuss this with me. So I released him. I released him and that was it.

He went on to do operations work which, as I heard, turned out to be not a very happy experience for Josh. Josh never made director which is a pity because under the right guidance he could have been a star partner.

Once you are in the inner circle different rules apply. It’s not good enough that company policy says you can be transferred through an email.

No. When you are in the inner circle you trust people and they trust you. You are not expected to just follow the protocol.

You are expected to be courteous. Remember that.

The second example is someone again whom I was spending an enormous amount of time training. Let’s call her Rita. I was spending so much time training Rita. I remember people at the firm telling me, “Why do you spend so much time training her? You spend an inordinate amount of your time explaining concepts to her, exposing her to key clients and so on.”

How this person chose to resign from the firm was to send me an email at 11.10pm at night. And I know why she sent an email at 11.10pm at night. It was because she wanted to leave in a month and she sent the email on the last day of the month giving her exactly 31 days to leave. Rita had some personal things she wanted to do and she wanted to leave. So if she resigned the next day she could not have the month-long notice that is required.

It was deeply upsetting to me to get that email from Rita. Needless to say, I did not got good night sleep that day.

Firstly, she did not had the courtesy to tell me she was resigning well in advance and give me sufficient time to arrange a proper hand over. Instead, she informed me in the last possible minute. Rita did not worry about the engagements we had running and that I had a lot invested in her and a lot of ongoing work was organized around her.

Secondly, she sent me an email. She did not even had courtesy to tell me in person, or in the least to call me.

Third, I had actually helped Rita work from home at some stretches to manage her personal life. So we clearly could accommodate her needs.

She just resigned. It was a horrible mess to deal with because I had invested a lot in building a relationship with her, introducing her to clients, giving her more responsibility and authority than was necessary for the role and she just left.

The issue to me is not that she left.

The issue is she resigned with an email and gave the shortest possible notice period. If she has spoken to me we would have created a plan for her to leave.

You never resign in an email or give  the bare minimum notice period if you are a part of the inner circle. That is like slapping someone on the face. You never do that.

And what was even worse is the way Rita acted when she resigned. The quality of work significantly deteriorated. She was sending slides which were just horrible. The worst part, I could not get her to do a proper handover.

In fact, she would do things that she thought was needed versus what was actually needed.

After she left the team had to scramble to piece together engagements that she was involved in.

So how do you resign?

So how do you resign? Well, you resign as if you are a part of the inner circle.

First, when you want to resign the person with whom you have the key relationship must be told first and in person, before everyone else.

And you don’t tell them you want to resign.

You build up to it.

You say something along the following lines, “Look, I know the investment made in me has been significant. I enjoyed all parts of it. But over the last few months I have been thinking about leaving. Now I know that it is going to be difficult for me to leave so I am telling you really early so we can think of some way to make this work.”

Have you noticed there is no ultimatum? There is no, “This is the day I am leaving on.” No, you are telling me in advance so I can start planning for it.

I am not going to hold it against you. If you want to leave, it’s fine but work towards it. If you tell me you are thinking about this I can help you work out a transition plan.

Irrespective of whether you send an email or tell me in person, don’t have a hard deadline saying, “I am leaving by the 15th”. You can do that if you are not important to the organization. But if you are a part of the inner circle and the relationship is personal and your mentor invested time and effort in you if you resign this way you are unlikely going to get your mentor to ever speak to you again.

I don’t speak to those two people who resigned. Those people have reached out to me since they resigned but I never responded to them because what they have done was a breach of trust. I made an enormous investment but they chose to leave in such a disrespectful way.

To this day I have never spoken to those people. And this is years later. Yet, I supported them. I even supported Josh’s partnership vote though he never received it. I just did not want to have anything to do with them personally.

You can say it’s being petty. It’s not being petty. Consulting firms are basically a group of people who agreed to work together because we trust the other person will be there to have our back. And when you leave by getting someone else to write an email, or when you leave and cannot care less about fixing loose ends, there is no recourse.

Moreover, if you leave with an ultimatum with just 1 month notice even though you know the investment the firm and I made to develop you and protect you, and groom you, and give you opportunities you did not have before, again the relationship ends because of the way you chose to resign.

Note, in consulting we expect you to eventually leave. The issue is the way this was done.

So if you want to resign don’t just get another job and say, “I am resigning.” While the firm has processes and will accept it, and will smile about it, and will say it is all good, the key people who rely on you are going to feel slighted.

If you are a part of the inner circle, and therefore within the purview of the key things within the firm, it is a betrayal to resign just following company policy.

More is expected of you. Much, much more.

In my own case, when I have resigned I have always done so on terms that suited the firm. I always offered to stay longer, help with things or even return to provide guidance. In the boutique firm, where I started my career many years ago, I even worked when the firm was closing and our salaries were not guaranteed.

I stayed at the firm till the end as one of the last employees when clients deserted and cash flow dried up. I stayed because I had the partner’s back as he tried to rebuild the firm. It was painful and hard, and I even passed up many good career opportunities.

No one understood why I did it. That is teamwork.

That is how you resign, especially if you are a part of the inner circle. By leaving an unimpeachable reputation.

WHAT IS NEXT? Hope you enjoyed this another insightful article from Michael. If you are new to FC, make sure you sign up above for email updates. Once you opt-in we will send you sample episodes from various training programs, including from programs within FC Insider (StrategyTraining.com / Strategy Training apps). If you have any questions do not hesitate to reach out to us at support @ firmsconsulting.com. Cheers, Kris

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