A few weeks ago, Neil Morrison wrote a piece on the etiquette of resigning. The message, in short, was don’t get demob happy. Behave during your notice period as you would behave if you were still planning to be working there in a year’s time. So don’t start slagging off your employer, don’t throw sickies or take random days off and “put as much effort in on the last day as you put in on the first day”.
I’m proud to say that, throughout my career, I have pretty much held to all of Neil’s dos and don’ts apart, perhaps, from that final one. Some of my last days have involved a lot of alcohol at lunchtime which made putting in any effort at all somewhat difficult. But I agree with his general point.
It brought to mind a time when I was working in HR IT systems for a fairly large organisation. Even when I was under notice, I was working during the dark December evenings and even the odd weekend to make sure everything was in place for the sacred annual pay and bonus round.
It was then that a freelance IT chap I had been working with gave me one of the most incisive pieces of feedback I have ever had. He said:
You’ve been a hell of a lot more effective since you’ve been bullet-proof.
What he meant, of course, was that, having handed in my notice and secured a shiny new job, I was now beholden to no-one. I could say what I liked. Consequently, I had stopped pulling my punches and started telling it like it was. The organisation was very political but I no longer needed to play the political game and so no longer felt the need to finesse my language or say things in a politically acceptable way. Shorn of the mealy-mouthed corporate wordsmithing, my messages were clearer. As a result, people got them more quickly and acted on them, even if they didn’t like what they were hearing.
Which got me thinking. What if instead of, as Neil says, behaving on our last day as if it were our first, we behaved on our first day as if it were our last? This might sound scary to some people but most of us could probably get away with being a bit braver and blunter about what we say. Certainly, the larger public and private sector organisations have a certain amount of inbuilt protection from arbitrary management vindictiveness. The risks of telling it like it is are probably not as high as you think.
Since I had that feedback, I have taught myself to be that bit braver in uncomfortable situations. It doesn’t come easily to me as I am both lazy and cowardly. It’s worth it though. Often, when you ask ‘that question’ – you know, the one that everyone is thinking but daren’t ask – the rest of the team breathe a sigh of relief. It’s ‘that question’ that gets to the root of the problem. A lot of the time in business we talk about ‘elephants in rooms’ – if you were just about to leave the company you wouldn’t worry so much about pointing and saying, “Look at that bloody great elephant!”
Many of the people I know who get the best results in a corporate context differ from their colleagues only in their willingness to take the odd risk. They just have that little bit more nerve than everyone else. In short, they behave like I did when I thought I was bullet-proof.