Before you begin reading, I think it’s important for me to state who I believe the audience is for this article. I recently gave a talk about leaving a client after the relationship broke down a bit. This got me thinking about how so much attention is paid to the courtship, to getting the client to like you, but almost no thought is given to how you leave that client. I believe that how you end your relationship is as important as how you start. If you are a consultant, who is regularly joining and leaving clients, I urge you to read this. Also, since many of us in the IT industry sometimes have issues with relating to others I also give a few points to look out for that relate to the social rituals and ceremonies people take part in.
So how should you leave a client? Well, you should give it as much fanfare as your arrival. When you started, did you take the time and trouble to introduce yourself to a lot of people? Well, you should go back to those people and say goodbye. You may wonder when should you do this? A month is a good timeframe. Of course, if you learn that you’re leaving in less than a month, tell people immediately.
But why should you do this? Mainly because people have probably come to like you (especially if you’ve been at the client for six months or more). These people might want to get you a card, a small gift, or even arrange a small leave gathering during or after work hours.
If you have no good reason to decline such an event, you should attend, even if it’s after hours at some other location. These kinds of gatherings are an important ceremony for those you worked with. Of course, take your personal tolerances into account. For instance, if you don’t drink, you won’t want to go to a bar after work. But rather than decline the invitation, tell whomever is organising it that you don’t drink alcohol so they can alter their plans. This goes for any dietary needs you might have. However, if you find such social gatherings too intense and overwhelming, be open and honest early on. Keep in mind that, if you hear nothing, they might be planning a surprise farewell, so part of telling them you’re leaving is to tell them you are uncomfortable with such gatherings. Don’t just say you don’t want one, as this might be interpreted as you being humble and the party planning could still proceed.
Here are a few reasons why it’s important to made a deal of your exit:
1. It’s just good manners. Abruptly leaving a place where people have gotten to know and like you can be interpreted as rude.
2. It’s important to leave people with a positive last impression of you. The IT world is small and you never know when you might end up working with some of these people again. How you leave will carry into how they relate to you in a new setting.
3. Your company may want to pursue future work at the client. How you conduct yourself can affect whether the client chooses to retain your co-workers or whether they decide to pursue future contracts.
4. You might end up back at that same client in some other capacity. Who knows what the future may bring?
Positive feelings are delicate and take a lot of work to build up. Negative ones, on the other hand, can persist and blow up very fast, obliterating any positive sentiment you may have built up.
There are many rituals and ceremonies that people use to navigate the world around them. Not only do they allow people the opportunity to express themselves, but are also valuable in knowing where they stand in relation to you. Leaving abruptly and with no word might give them the impression that you did not enjoy your time with them.
But what happens if the assignment doesn’t come to a clean end? What if things change at the client and you find that you have to extract yourself before the agreed on time? In this case you should speak to your manager (not the one at the client, but your unit manager) as soon as possible. You need to explain the situation in detail and get their advice on the best way to extract yourself. There might be an agreement with the client to give a month’s notice, so you will want to act quickly in case you miss a cut-off and are forced to work out two months instead of one. There also might be ongoing negotiations between your employer and the client for more of your colleagues to work there and your behaviour could have a very serious effect on how those negotiations go. Remember, it’s not a failing on your or the client’s side—sometimes people just don’t mix well.
The next step is to inform the client. This would include POs, scrum masters and managers. But don’t forget to inform your coworkers and any other people within the organisation who you have gotten to know. How do you determine who these additional people are? Here are a few criteria to look out for:
1. Who did you spend the most time interacting with? This usually includes the team you were on, but also includes members of other teams you spent a lot of time with. If you weren’t in a team, then you would have been liaising with several people.
2. Did you have any conversations with people about something not work related? These people might feel a connection to you and would appreciate knowing that you are leaving.
Apart from handing back any hardware, you should spend some time moving around the office, saying goodbye to people individually. If your final day isn’t an office day then use your last office day to do this. Anyone you don’t get to, you can easily contact online. Those you spent the most time with should get the most intricate farewells. If you weren’t particularly fond of someone, you might have to lie a bit (lying being a social lubricant society is built on). They may know you’re lying but, again, how you handle these leaving encounters can really affect how people think of you and the company you work for once you’re gone. Your departure can often be an opportunity for those you may have butted heads with to consolidate the relationship and let go of any hard feelings. This can be very cathartic for everyone involved, even if it means nothing to you.
It’s important to keep in mind that, while you might not need any of this ceremony, the people around you do. Your actions could lead to forming new friendships or help or hinder any future contracts at the client. It’s important to keep in mind that yours is not the only perspective that matters.