A Transition Plan is Proof That Your Work Mattered
I see this one book every time I’m roaming the “Self Help” aisle at Powell’s. It’s called Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. I’ve been through some pretty significant transitions in the last few years, but I only picked it up for the first time recently, after I was laid off from my job.
I wasn’t sure that I was the target demographic for the book: I didn’t particularly feel like I was grieving the loss of my job and I parted on good terms with my boss, but I was curious about whether it might be helpful for me to read anyway.
What I’ve learned in the weeks since I walked out of that office for the last time is that regardless of how or when or why you leave a job, it’s still a huge change. And the transition to the next phase of your life and your career can be bumpy, whether or not you know where you’re headed next.
A Transition Plan as Proof
Minutes after I was told that my position had been dissolved, I opened a Google Doc and started writing a transition plan — a multi-page document meant to provide my boss (and any potential successor) with the information they needed to continue the work I’d done. I still had a month left in my position so there wasn’t really a rush, but it felt like the only thing to do in that moment.
It wasn’t so much that I didn’t appreciate the forced change that this layoff precipitated; it was that I identified with the work that I did — and if that work wasn’t enough to keep me on board, what did that say about me?
Creating a transition plan isn’t always required when you leave a job, but it’s almost always appreciated. Making it as easy as possible for your team to pick up where you left off without any lost time or money is a nice way to leave on good terms; to give your team and your (soon-to-be former) company the support they need to continue on without you.
But it was more than that for me. It was proof that I had been there, proof that I had contributed, proof that continue on though they might — I had helped create what they would continue.
When Your Work is Your Identity
In Transitions, author William Bridges shares stories and question prompts to help guide readers through various significant transitions in work and life.
“Why is letting go so difficult?” Bridges asks. “This is a puzzling question, especially if we have been looking forward to a change… We feel these unexpected losses because, to an extent that we seldom realize, we come to identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives.”
As I listed every responsibility and every step of every process and each in-progress project that I would be transitioning over, I began to see what my work said about me.
Of course I had come to identify with the circumstances of my work, my role, my coworkers, my daily schedule and responsibilities, and even of my commute. It wasn’t so much that I didn’t appreciate the forced change that this layoff precipitated; it was that I identified with the work that I did — and if that work wasn’t enough to keep me on board, what did that say about me?
Create a Plan for Your Transition
Something began to shift as I created my transition plan, though. As I listed every responsibility and every step of every process and each in-progress project that I would be transitioning over, I began to see what my work said about me.
It said that I was strategic, creative, and smart; committed to my company and to my craft. All professional decorum notwithstanding, this is the main reason that I recommend creating your own transition document, whether it’s requested of you or not: it will remind you of everything you did, and it will remind you that your work mattered.
My transition document marked not just a bullet-pointed list of my responsibilities and processes, but also evidence to counteract some now lacking confidence. It was the boost I needed to remember how valuable I had been in that role as I transitioned into whatever I did next.
Here’s what I included in mine:
Responsibilities. Write down every responsibility expected of your role, and how often you do them. Even if it seems insignificant or obvious to you, it might be helpful for the next-in-line for your job to know. If you can’t think of everything you’ve done, ask to look at your original job description and add anything you’ve forgotten.
Close-to-Completion Projects. List all of the projects you’ll finish before you leave — making sure that you’re considering what you can realistically complete before your last day.
In-Progress Projects. Are there projects that you won’t be able to finish before you head out? Add them in, too. Include as many details as you can, including important tasks, resources, and contact information for relevant collaborators and contractors.
Process Lists. If there are certain tasks you do over and over again — every day, week, month or quarter — walk yourself through the process and write down every step. And try to write it down in terms that anybody could understand and follow.
Contact Information. Share the name, email, and phone number of anyone you communicated and collaborated with often. This might include colleagues, project contractors, or collaborators from different teams within your organization, amongst other people.
Important Tools, Resources, and Passwords. If you’re the sole user and keeper of passwords for specific tools and resources, make sure you share that information too.
From One Chapter to the Next
And then, at the end of it all — before you hand it over — look at what you’ve done. Take a minute (or more) to remember how accomplished and productive and useful you were! Whether you’re transitioning out of your role by choice or… well, not, you should celebrate all that you did before you go.
That last step is a key part of the transition plan. Or, at least, it was a key part of mine. Even though it never ended up in the Google Doc I shared with my former boss, acknowledging and appreciating all that I had contributed in my role was integral to helping me transition out of this one phase of my professional life and into the next.
For me — someone who was admittedly feeling the sting of this professional breakup, amicable or not — my transition document marked not just a bullet-pointed list of my responsibilities and processes, but also evidence to counteract some now lacking confidence. It was the boost I needed to remember how valuable I had been in that role as I transitioned into whatever I did next.
“Remember that a change in your work life is just that — a change — and that being in transition means that something more than that is going on inwardly,” Bridges says. “It means that you have reached the point where it is time to let go of an idea or an assumption, a self-image or a dream. It means that you are moving from one chapter of your story to the next.”
Transitioning out of a job — whether you’re transitioning into your dream role, a temporary project, or god-only-knows-what next — doesn’t often seem to carry the same gravitas as life’s many other significant transitions. But it’s still a change and it’s still a loss, which is why it’s still nice to deliver that transition plan — that reminder of all that you gave and all that you gained — before you leave.
It’s proof that you were there, that you did good work, and that your work mattered.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.