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.
In this Voices on Project Management roundtable, bloggers discuss their mentors. We asked: What is the best project management advice you received from your mentor? How do you continue to use it?
Hajar Hamid, PMP: One of my previous managers gave me valuable advice on how to respond to challenging emails: Wait for a day before responding. The reason behind this is to be objective in responding and to get to the core of the issue. Only with a clear head can we contribute to the solution.
MÃ¡rio Henrique Trentim, PMI-RMP, PMP: The best advice I received from my mentor was: "There is no single project management theory. It takes knowledge and experience to build the maturity that will help you manage larger and more complex projects."
In the beginning of my career, I focused on managing "by the book." It felt safe because I was compliant to a standard. However, every project has special characteristics. Even A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)--Fifth Edition mentions tailoring.
Today, I advise my own mentees to learn and master one methodology at a time, applying them to a specific project. With time, they get more experienced and fluent in many standards and methodologies.
Lynda Bourne, DPM, PMP: The mentee relationship has proven a very rich experience for me both as a mentor and as a mentee.
As a mentee, I mainly worked with women who had succeeded in areas in which I was just starting out. The most important thing I learned from mentors was this: Observe how the men operate. They don't take failure personally, they are confident in their own abilities, and they know the value of networking. I learned how to do these three things better with support from my mentor, and my career flourished.
Generally my mentees are seeking a career change. Some know what they want to do next, some don't. In our conversations, we explore options for their next career moves. I don't give advice as such -- I just ask questions, challenge or talk about my own experiences. Then when mentees make their move to the new career, they are ready and understand any risks. Mentees have the solution in their own minds and usually just need someone "in their corner" to work it out.
Conrado Morlan, PMP, PgMP: While working hard to earn stripes as a junior project manager, the triple constraint ruled my mindset and blocked me from developing project plans. I was literally playing by the book and couldn't see the forest for the trees.
My manager recommended I look at the big picture, be flexible and put things into context. "We do not live in a perfect world and you have to understand that," he said. He advised that I shouldn't let the uncertainty of resources stop me from seeing the bigger picture. The purpose of a project is to produce a result and along the way, my stakeholders and I would need to be flexible and adapt to the existing conditions.
Bernadine Douglas, PMP: The best project management advice I received was regarding building rapport. My mentor encouraged networking and holding meetings inside and outside of the office to build rapport with team members and stakeholders.
As a mentor, I too put a lot of emphasis on this. I take advantage of situations to talk with team members so they feel comfortable talking with me.
What's the best advice you received from a mentor? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
In this week's excerpt of "Women in Project Management," Beth Partleton gives a very honest answer to the question: "Will there ever be a day when we're not talking about women in project management as a separate topic?" She also provides advice on professional development opportunities as well as what women need to consider when considering a career 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?