A good friend and ex-colleague of mine, Joe DeMartino, gave me interesting advice: “Sometimes it is OK to burn a bridge”. He told me this as he officially resigned from his job. As part of his resignation, he was brutally honest (to the point of being offensive) with his management chain. Joe added: “If I am not completely honest with them, who will be? Besides, it felt good”.
I recently resigned from SAP, a large, global company with tentacles in almost every aspect of the software industry. I left to go to a startup. Should I share with SAP all the reasons I was leaving? Or should I be extremely positive and leave every door open, just in case? In an era of acquisitions, I could end up working for SAP again. Or, I could end up working for an SAP executive. It’s a small world in the tech community.
What if the company lets you go? Once in my career, I was the victim of a layoff. The startup I worked for was on its way under. Entire departments were let go – including my department (marketing). I vehemently disagreed with some of the leadership team’s actions toward employees. In theory, if there was ever a perfect time to speak my mind, it was now…. A failed startup with suspect ethics. But, I kept my mouth shut. I held my head high, smiled broadly, and shook every hand on the way out the door, thanking them for the opportunity. My positive attitude paid off. John Chambers personally called me to interview at Cisco based on my CEO’s referral.
Was my friend Joe wrong? Is there ever a time that speaking your mind and burning a bridge outweighs the benefits of leaving on good terms? When should you speak out for the “greater good”?
One of the startups I worked for was bought by Wal-Mart. In true large empire fashion, Wal-Mart only bought the assets of the company. Only a few of us were offered jobs at Wal-Mart post acquisition. The CEO of the startup (who got a nice payoff) was telling the executive team his plan to share the news with employees. He was planning on being absurdly positive. Ethically, I could not keep silent. Outraged, I told him: “How dare you try to pitch this in a positive light! These people are being fired with no severance, no insurance, and their options are worthless! Unless you are going to go out and personally kill all their pets, you could not deliver worse news today”. Many people thanked me after the meeting for saying what they were thinking. Years later, one executive offered me a job because of his respect for my ethics.
What is the best way to leave a company? Are there situations that require “burning bridges”? Or should you try to protect your network, leaving doors open at all times? It is a smaller world than we think, but karma has a way of prevailing.