It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye: Letting Go Of Your Professional Baby

Children of the 80’s should have Boyz II Men stuck in their head after reading the title of this post. Or, perhaps you’d enjoy Jason Mraz’s fresh new cover of the R&B classic. But this post isn’t about saying goodbye to yesterday—it’s about saying goodbye to a program you founded.

In May, I was fortunate to expand my “team of one” and hire a social media specialist. The point of this hire was to have someone focused on the day-to-day management of our corporate social media accounts so I could further develop our social media strategy and take on some new market research responsibilities. I hired a rockstar, and she hit the ground running.

Baby wearing a bowtie reading the bookAs soon as she demonstrated her competence (that took about 5 minutes), we started speaking in metaphors about my babies. Not human babies, but my social media babies—our corporate accounts that I had birthed and nurtured for the last 18 months. They spoke with my voice, and my way was “the way we did things,” simply because I’d been the only person to have access to the accounts. But, the whole point of adding the social media specialist was to yank the babies from me. And I started to experience separation anxiety. 

Even though I knew my new team member was qualified to do the work, I was not quick to give it to her. Today, a little over two months after she came on board, she’s doing most of the day-to-day work related to the social media program. While it’s been a blessing for my calendar and stress level, it wasn’t easy. Reflecting on this process over the last few months, here are a few things that I believe made it possible for me to let go of my “babies.”

How To Step Back From A Program You Founded

Have Confidence In Your Program—Not Just How You Managed It

If the program, initiative, event, etc. that you’ve created is fantastic, it should be fantastic in the hands of any competent professional. If the success of your program hinges on one person, it is not a program—it’s a project. (Tweet this!) Design your program for sustainability, and it will be easier to step back when the time comes.

Find Someone Eminently Qualified To Step In

This is the #1 reason I was able to make this transition. If at any point I felt we didn’t have someone waiting in the wings that rocked social media marketing and customer service, I would have postponed the hiring and the transition. It’s important to note that this person does not need to be just like you. In fact, someone with a fresh perspective and style could be very effective. But if you’re not confident in the person taking over your role, it will be next to impossible to give him/her a fair shot.

Discuss The Transition Often

When my new staff member was hired, we started talking about the transition process on day one. I laid my concerns on the table, and asked for feedback regarding whether she felt the transition was too fast or too slow. I acknowledged when I knew I was micromanaging, making it clear when I expected that behavior to end. I felt better knowing that I was clearly communicating my intentions at each step of the way, and I hope she felt the same.

Create A Separation Plan

Not only did we talk about how the transition was going and how each of us was feeling, but we set target dates for transitioning certain aspects of the program. This gave the new hire a goal to shoot for, and it gave me a realistic window during which I needed to let go. In my case, we had one big milestone that helped push things along: my planned two-week vacation to Europe. No matter how much separation anxiety I had, I didn’t want to be tied to my cell phone while I was on vacation.

Continue To Provide Constructive Feedback, Or Walk Away

If you maintain a supervisory or advisory role during and after the transition, it’s perfectly acceptable (and helpful) to provide ongoing feedback, even after someone else has taken the reins. Be certain that this feedback is about procedure and style that was defined as part of the program, not your personal preference for execution. This practice isn’t unique to program transitions—its one of the marks of a good supervisor. If you are not in any type of supervisory or advisory role, it’s best to walk away after program duties have transitioned. Chances are, whoever is in the drivers’ seat wants to be as successful as you were (or more successful). Let them chart their own course to success.

Have you ever had to step away from a program you founded? What was your experience like? How is it different when you stay involved with the organization/company versus when you leave the institution completely?

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