Resign properly

Its about your personal brand

Much is said, and many dollars earned, by people who want to instruct you on developing your personal brand. All around us we see grooming coaches, personal dressers and shoppers, and superannuated PR men working the lecture circuit. There’s a real hunger in Africa for self-improvement.

And so there should be. We are on the world stage now. The so-named developed world is coming to us for new opportunities. Politicians and businessmen from West and East are arriving in our cities and giving our economies the once over. So we cannot greet them in the fashion of a 1980’s parastatal MD.

And how many of those traditional outer offices have I sat in over the years? You know the ones: guarded by two females secretaries who appear to be hewn from stone. One with a disabled typewriter, and the other coveting the remains of a three-bladed electric fan. The pair buttressed by filing cabinets stuffed with nonsense.

When permitted entry, what did I invariably find but a small man in a bad suit behind a large desk?  Barricaded behind a selection of instruments from the Museum of Telephony. He, in turn, puzzled to see me and anxious to get rid of me so that he could listen to the midday news. To discover whether he had a job to come back to in the afternoon.

Nowadays we have to be thrusting, shiny, sharp-suited and smart. We have to browse the online media for conversational snippets. Monitor social media for the mustn’t-miss functions. Titivate our Twitter and lubricate our Linked In every hour, on the hour. But among all these vital new skills, I wonder if we need more help with the basics of business behaviour?

Last week I joined a thoroughly modern CEO in his open plan office, ready for a brief, well-focused meeting. But he was distracted. Disappointed. Disbelieving. Angry. You see, a Manager – whom he had hired half a decade ago and who had grown with the business – had just resigned. After a few seconds of conversation it was clear what really irked him. Not the resignation; but the way it had been done.

He had come to work ready to get stuck into another busy day, only to find a typewritten letter lying on his desk. From someone who had never had cause to write him a paper letter on any matter – for his business makes excellent use of technology. From someone with whom he has had daily conversations for over 60 months, without so much as hint of this intention.  So his reaction had been short, sharp and to the point. Two words: the second one being ‘you’.

Oh well, you might say, if that’s his attitude then the employee has done well to exit without having to explain himself. Bravo! Onwards to pastures new!

This attitude would be wrong anywhere in the world. But in Africa, where so many people struggle to find one paid job in their entire lives, it seems unacceptably arrogant. And it will have consequences.

Imagine that this person does indeed rise to the top of our economic tree. Then they will be part of a small cohort, wherein every member is well-known, and every step they have taken is permanent reference point. Just ask some of our real succeeders about the pressure they feel when they reach the top. It is a place where your personal brand really matters. And brands are all about the link between heritage and the future – where you have been and where you are going now.

So I thought I should share with you some advice from a person who is involved in hundreds of top hirings every year. Ness Strong, who runs leading executive search business By Appointment Africa, has this to say about resignation behaviour:

  • Think very carefully before you resign. Discuss your thoughts and concerns with family members and friends. List all the reasons why you want to resign and at each point seek counsel on whether resignation is the best answer.
  • If your HR manager is approachable and trustworthy, share your thoughts in confidence. She has the whole talent plan in her hands. So she may be able to give you a context or solution that you did not expect.
  • If you relate better to your boss, bite the bullet and call a meeting to discuss the concern or opportunity that is driving you. Perhaps ask for an interim appraisal to pen up the discussion.

As Ness says, any of the above is will help you reduce the emotion, and develop a more balanced and rational view.  You may still resign, but if you do you are doing so coolly. Which in turn makes it more likely that you will honour your contract, hand over professionally, and become known as a good leaver. Being a good leaver is just as important to your personal brand as being a rising star.

There’s no shame in resigning. It is running away that is shameful.


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