I am in the process of switching from one NASA customer to another. This means training my replacement to do what I was doing. As it happens, this is an amicable transition–I’m moving on to another part of NASA by choice, not being cut loose or downsized–but regardless of the situation, a professional communicator can demonstrate true value (and class) by handling a transition to another worker well.

A job transition is your opportunity to provide on-the-job training to your successor and to make certain that your successor and customer have as few problems as possible after you move on to The Next Big Thing.

As with any job, your successor is going to need to know about three primary things:

  • Products: The products you are creating and the content thereof.
  • Process: The procedures, forms, and operational mechanisms that govern how you do business.
  • People: Who knows the answers to the questions you are likely to ask once you’re gone and your successor is on his/her own.

To this, you might add

  • Politics: The general operating situation in which you work, including financial health, working relationships within the group, the organization’s future plans, its reputation within a larger organization, etc.

However, I would only provide your successor on this last point with the utmost discretion. For one thing, any assessment of your customer’s organization is purely subjective and governed to a great extent by your own experiences. There might be situations and decisions of which you know nothing. If you’re leaving because of office politics, this is especially true. Your successor’s personality and experiences are likely to be very different from yours, regardless of the reality of your situation, so if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

The point here is not to “poison the well” or air dirty laundry, nor is it to keep your successor in the dark about the job they are stepping in to do. Your primary job is to make sure that your successor can do your job when you are gone. If there are organizational challenges that affect your ability to generate products, by all means, share those regulations or restrictions. Most importantly, though, you want to share (via hard copy or electronic, or both) the products you have created, the products you are in the process of creating, and the products you have been assigned or promised to deliver. You should make some effort to explain what the expectations have been of your products and position. And if your successor has a problem, s/he should know how to resolve it or whom to turn to if resolution is not possible for them.

Making a first impression is important, but your last impression matters, too. Be certain you leave your company/customer in good shape to carry on after you’ve changed jobs. That’s an excellent way to ensure a good recommendation for your next transition.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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