inner circle how to resign

In today’s post, and related podcast, we will talk about something that is important to all consultants and all executives, especially partners.

And the reason this comes up is because recently we had a resignation from Firmsconsulting which was not handled well.

So 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.

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 you are not part of the inner circle.

This distinction matters.

inner circle how to resign

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 relationship 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 showed 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 and listen to your opinion?

Does the organization take your opinion seriously?

Let me give you an example involving that managing director. He attended 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 problem I often have with 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 from a rival firm, 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 part of the inner circle.

Now, if you are not part of the inner circle its 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 boutique 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 judgements.

There was one guy in particular that I really liked. Lets 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 task master.

We got to know each other very well socially and I thought we had 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.

email_inner circle_how to resign 2Everything 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 the 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 passed 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 my peer 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 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.

inner circle how to resign firmsconsulting quote 2Once you are in the inner circle different rules apply. Its 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 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. Lets 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 a 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 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.

inner circle_how to resign_quote 2You 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. Take it or leave it.” 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, its 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. I was very courteous with them and I told them, “Look, I enjoyed working with you. If there is anything we can do to help you, we will do it.

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 where 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 team work.

That is how you resign. By leaving an unimpeachable reputation.

As always, if you have any comments or questions, please let us know in the comments.

Michael Boricki is a partner, based in Firmsconsulting’s Las Vegas office.

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Comments

8 responses to Inner circle member? How to resign without burning bridges

  1. Hello Henry,

    You raise good points about the ease at which trust can be lost. I am no expert on this subject but I would hazard to guess that trust can rarely be fully recovered once it is lost. In fact, I think in most relationships it is very hard to trust someone and once you gain that trust, it should never be taken for granted. Be it trust between a company and client, trust in a relationship or trust in a business setting.

    Trust is not whether someone agrees to be/like/work with you. It is whether someone will be vulnerable around you. It is the level of risk we will take around someone.

    Michael

  2. Hi Nerses,

    That is a great point and, ideally, everyone should think about succession planning even if you are a fairly entry-level employee.

    Michael

  3. Hi Stephen,

    Yes, that is a good story to read and it seems to have been poorly handled. In that case Kelly was hurt since her ratings etc., would appreciably change so Michael, based on the information disclosed, should have handled this better.

    As you say, these are fairly easy things to manage. Think of your reputation as credit you earn to spend in the future.

    Michael

  4. One doesn’t need to look very far to see where resignations in bad faith turn bad. See the evolving Kelly Ripa & Michael Strahan “Live” Saga. I could imagine the fallout would have been very different if Michael Strahan was upfront with the producers and Kelly. It just goes to show how important it is to be upfront and courteous to those on the inside. This article should be a must read for anyone who wants to advance in their careers and grow their networks.

    It is short sighted to assume leaving or making an unfavourable decision will hurt someone. The irony is by not telling the person affected, the decision hurts much more because you couldn’t be upfront. This is not just a professional skill, it should be embedded in a person’s value and personal life. The times where I didn’t blind-side others, and have been honest and upfront, I was genuinely surprised by a receptive attitude. The part where people are not upfront stems from human psychology, through loss and hurt aversion. While almost everyone has this fear, it doesn’t take much effort to stop and think the situation through and do it the right way. Sadly I’ve seen myself and many others fail at this.

  5. I think at some point in your career you need to start thinking of the succession planning. In this case, when you decide to leave, the conversation would generally be easier, all things equal.

  6. Michael,
    That was a perceptive article you wrote. The article resonated with me because it reminded me about the importance of human values and why sticking to them, especially during difficult times, will make you come ahead in the long term. Our natural decision-making tendency is to only consider ourselves. Resigning in a haste without considering those who’ve cared and groomed us, are those natural tendencies. Unfortunately breaking someone trust is one of the hardest relationship breakers to repair. All this to say that our human values should always be in the forefront of our decison-making process no matter how rewarding the future may seem. Because we are social beings, one rarely makes it at the top or rises from the bottom without the help, grooming, assistance, and advices of others. Burning bridges is never the appropriate answer whether you are at the top or the lowest level in an organization. We never know who we are going to meet during our descent or ascent.

  7. Hi Zander,

    It baffles me. How bad can the conversation really be? At the very worst possible scenario, I may be shocked but rarely will things turn negative. I have never seen any partner act badly towards a resignation. They may be shocked at first, but they soon get over it.

    In another related story when I joined the firm and my previous employer needed some help, I actually took leave for a week to go back to my old firm and help them fix the problem. I took the leave even though I had only just joined the firm for all of 3 days! HR was surprised I was doing it but my view was that I was responsible for the problems and I needed to fix it.

    In fact, about 2 decades years later when I had left the country and needed a reference from that very same employer, the HR team still remembered me and gave me a glowing reference versus the stock standard letters one normally receives. And I did not even ask for the letter – all they needed to do was confirm my employment!

    To me, taking 1 week of leave and holding up my consulting career by one week seemed like a cheap price to pay for knowing my reputation at my old employer was completely intact.

    It is the small things that make a big difference.

    Michael

  8. Why don’t people act professionally in these situations? Are they afraid of an uncomfortable conversation about leaving and then becoming black-listed? The outcome of leaving un-courteously seems worse.

    You mention that you should act as though you are in the inner circle, even when you are not. This is a huge point. Even people who work “low-level” jobs in the service industry know the cost of burning bridges with unprofessional behavior.

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