As much as we wish these things didn’t occur, we sometimes find ourselves having to leave a project early or terminate a business engagement. This is always difficult to do, and how you do it can help you maintain your integrity and credibility throughout the transition.
Recently, I had to terminate a business relationship myself. Here are a few lessons that I learned that you can apply the next time you are in a similar situation.
1. Place the blame on yourself. I know you wouldn’t be leaving a project or quitting a business relationship if it were all your fault, but the key thing here is that you need to buck up and take responsibility for the business arrangement ending. There are several ways you can frame it to take the emphasis for the decision away from the other party. For example: “I’m sorry, but I just don’t have the ability to deliver the work to you in a manner that you have grown accustomed to” or “I find myself at a point where I don’t feel my presence best serves the project, and I think a new set of eyes is going to be helpful to getting things back on track.” Or, you can come up with your own. The point is that you take a little of the emphasis off the party that you are ending the relationship with and place it on yourself. This will lessen any bad blood or negativity from the decision. It is important to note that you must cast the decision in terms of your inability to continue to serve the client in a manner that he or she deserves.
2. If possible, present options for replacements.If you find yourself at a point of no return and need out of a business relationship, you can soften the blow even more if you provide alternatives. The question you are probably asking yourself is, “If I can’t work with this person or on this project, why would I refer them to someone else?” But the truth is, we are all in different businesses and at different stages of our career — and while your threshold for some clients may be zero, someone just starting out or looking to find a different focus may be more than willing to accept a challenge that you consider unnecessary. This goes back to the first point: If you can’t serve the client in the way that he or she deserves, you are doing the client a favor by removing yourself from the project and helping him or her find someone who can do better.
3. Be prepared for blowback.Even when these things go great, there will be some sort of blowback or negative impact. You might have spelled everything out with as much tact as a veteran diplomat, but you are still leaving the business relationship with a jilted partner who may lash out to other members of your organization or other potential business partners. In this instance, you can try to contain any negative feedback or impact on you and your career by preparing a standard statement that you give to everyone that explains your role in the dissolution of the relationship. It should cast a bad situation in the most favorable light for you. One I have used is: “I am sorry the project didn’t work out, but I made a series of unwise choices that made my effectiveness impossible, and to best serve the project, I felt it was best for me to step away.” That’s it — it isn’t perfect, but neither is the situation you find yourself in.
How have you found success in ending business relationships?
Join meon December 4, 2014, in my upcoming seminar on leadership in project management.
Want a Career Edge in 2013? Carpe Diem
Categories: Career Help
In my last post, I promised some pointers for what to do after you've identified your career goals.
My suggestion is to toss them aside. It may seem to defy career logic, but here's why it works: While our definition of success evolves slowly, the specific steps and goals that get us there can and should change with the circumstances. And circumstances are changing ever more rapidly.
For example, a meaningful goal can quickly turn into a waste of time with a corresponding opportunity cost.
I remember sitting down for my first career-planning session when I got into line management at IBM in the late 1980s. My manager and I carefully mapped out a plan that included various entry-level positions, followed by roles in middle management and then executive management. It all looked pretty good. Then along came the great upheavals of the late '80s and early '90s that stripped away entire layers of middle management.
I found myself with a plan that led to a place that no longer existed. I was trapped in career limbo, until finally I was forced into a role as a system architect. Frankly, that didn't work out very well. But in that role, I attended a conference on software development and learned about project management as a profession. It intrigued me, so I sought out more information about it.
You see, the system architects on my team were brilliant technologists. But they weren't good at planning their own work. Opportunity! I suggested that perhaps I could add more value in the role of project manager. The rest, is history.
Had I relentlessly pursued the goals outlined in my career plan, I probably wouldn't have survived past 1992. But when serendipity and opportunity intersected, I seized the moment. As a result, I've had a rewarding career, one in which I see myself as successful. (In this regard, my perspective is the only one that counts.)
The moral of the story? Where you will end up in your career 25 years from now may have nothing to do with your grand visions of today.
Here are a few other suggestions to keep you on course but flexible:
Systematically pursuing relevant goals and adopting new ones as others become irrelevant is a delicate balance. But the resulting career agility is well worth the effort.
|I recently heard an interview with Antonin Scalia, an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, regarding the rulings he has handed down over the years. The reporter wondered if Mr. Scalia ever worried about public backlash or the opinions of his fellow justices. |
Mr. Scalia simply replied that he didn't worry about that. He has life tenure, given to him by the U.S. government. He believes that tenure allows him to do and say what he thinks is right and not worry about how it will affect his career or colleagues.
This answer had a profound effect on me. I often wonder if I am "doing the right thing" when I make decisions at work. I try, but I would not be honest if I did not admit that the career survival instinct hasn't kicked in once in a while. Perhaps sometimes I compromise on issues that I know are not good for my projects or my team. But I'll give the client the answer they want to hear, or perhaps tone down the weekly status report to avoid stirring the pot when there are real issues to discuss.
I've now started applying what I will refer to as the "life tenure" rule to all of my decisions and activities. I try to look at a decision or situation through the lens of "If I did not have to worry about politics or personalities or self-promotion, would I still make this move?" I have to say, thankfully, that I appear to achieve that about 90 percent of the time. But clearly I think that can improve.
I know it is naive to think that someone could or should perform their job as if they could not get fired. Or to think that if we all had that freedom, that we would always make the right decision. But it is an interesting concept to ponder, and a fascinating test to apply.
Think about it: How would your professional life change if you had life tenure as a project manager?
|Our careers exist in the context of that intricate web of family, friends and colleagues that we call our network. |
I've often drawn an analogy between that network, as an organism of sorts, and our own brains. For example, when our brains make more robust connections, our network of cells becomes "smarter." Likewise, we become more adept at things that we use our brain connections for and our network becomes more adept as we use the connections we've created.
In the same way that we as project professionals are bombarded by an overwhelming number of stimuli, so too is our professional network. And likewise, the network can only take notice of a very small number of things. The majority of what it encounters simply has to be ignored.
I previously wrote about how we can sensitize the part of our brains called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) to help us achieve career objectives. If the above the analogy holds up (and I think it does), we should be able to sensitize our network to help us advance our project management careers in the same way that we can sensitize our own minds.
Simply setting a goal mentally sensitizes the mind to events that can help us achieve that goal. Similarly, articulating a goal to our network, especially in writing, sensitizes our peers' minds, creating spots of sensitivity within the network. The network becomes sensitized and can attribute new meaning to the same stuff that has been happening all around it. All of a sudden, everything seems to become aligned to your purpose.
For example, if you tell your professional network that you are looking for job, it becomes something your peers are aware of. When they see an open project management position, rather than skip over it, they think of your job search.
As a participating member of this network, you can work with others to sensitize your mind to their purpose. You will pay attention to things that you otherwise would have ignored that will help you to help them achieve their career goals.
As I have often said, networking is a generous activity. When you give without thinking of getting, you will find that the network gives back more than what you put in. Don't doubt it! Not for a moment.
How have you benefitted from your network?
It is always good to groom talent internally to fill vacant positions in the company. It saves cost, effort and time -- all the important aspects of a successful project.
I like to think of grooming a project team member as another project.
To ensure that 'project' is successful, a project manager should look for possible candidates that match certain characteristics. In my opinion, the following are among the characteristics a manager should look for in potential project managers (in no particular order):
A project manager must be able to communicate effectively. Friendliness is a good trait to have because more often than not, a friendly person is able to get information from the least communicative person.
2. Willingness to learn
Learning happens all the time in managing projects. Even the most seasoned project managers still learn something new from each new project.
A project manager must be focused in seeing a project through until it is completed -- or halted. He or she must have a clear vision to be able to steer the project team to fulfill the project goals.
And this doesn't mean the project manager's workstation. The information that the project manager shares must be organized and structured to ensure clarity and understanding to the recipients.
In a project, conflicts will arise -- even from something as minor as a missing network cable, for example. A project manager must be able to act objectively, as a mediator and be able see the whole picture.
When making decisions or providing direction, a project manager needs to be firm. Not every decision will be popular. Resistance may occur, but the project manager must stick to her or his ground.
This, by no means, is an exhaustive list of characteristics that a project management protégé must have. But I do believe these are the fundamental criteria that a project manager should possess to be effective and successful.
What criteria do you look for in a project team member when grooming him or her to be a project manager? What other characteristics do you feel are important for someone who wants to be a project manager?