Exit Strategies

A carefully prepared exit strategy considers both leaving the current organization and entering the next.

The following question was posted on GaryNorth.com:

“What is the framework for formulating/evaluating exit strategies, as well as related tactics?”

Background: Military Context

In the military context, the purpose of a breakout is to save the remnants of a fight from total annihilation, so that they may be reapplied elsewhere at another time. Essentially, the force breaking out either evades or fights its way out using a series of deliberate tactical actions designed to preserve resources, deflect any opposition, and get to a place of safety; it doesn’t turn and run pell mell, as that is generally suicidal.

There are two outcomes to be realized in a successful breakout:

  1. The “enemy” must be prevented from hindering the breakout. This is usually accomplished via a series of delay or evasive actions, slowing down the enemy’s response and ability to attack directly.
  2. Friendlies must have a secure place to go. The secure place to go allows the unit to consolidate and reorganize (because they are no longer under fire); then assume a new mission.

(See the climax to the movie A Bridge Too Far for an example of breakout planning and execution.)

Tactical Employment Context

The key point to remember about an “exit strategy” is that, notwithstanding the label, it is really about a transition; from here to there. In the employment context, as a tactical action, you are both leaving (the current bargain) and arriving (at a new bargain). From this perspective, the successful exit strategy must address both the leaving and the arriving.

Business Purpose

The tactical purpose of an exit plan is to preserve one’s reputation and credibility, and current income stream, until gainful follow-on employment is secured.

To achieve this purpose, and similar to the military context, there are two outcomes to be realized in a successful exit (i.e., transition):

  1. The current employer should not be given reason to take adverse actions, such as sowing a negative performance review (formal, informal, documented, or oral), nor take precipitous action, such as immediate termination. Under the best scenario, the employer actually assists the employee in departing gracefully.
  2. The new employer (self or other) provides greater security of compensation in aggregate (salary, benefits, role and responsibilities, working conditions, development, et al); essentially, a better employment bargain.

Tactical Planning

The following is a planning outline for a tactical exit plan in the employment context. It consists of the four phases common to most projects, and is presented herein as a project outline. As a practical matter, you can assume and apply any timeframe for new employment; the more time, the more opportunity for a comprehensive and complete plan.

Start-Up:

  1. Draft the “purpose message.” This is the documented rationale, addressed to prospective employers AND to yourself, articulating the whys and wherefores of your exit. It answers the question: “Why are you changing employment bargains?” It serves as a quality check validating your reasoning both to yourself and any new employer.
  2. Draft the “conditions for exit.” These are the Trigger Events affecting the exit; the specific “why” and “conditions” of your exit; the temporal cause(s). These also serve to establish objective decision criteria which may also be applied toward qualifying new employment.
  3. Draft the actions you will undertake to forestall opposition from your current employer, and perhaps garner support. This could be as simple as writing a turnover plan, or as complex as getting involved in major business improvements while still at the firm. This accomplishes outcome number one, above.
  4. Draft your “search criteria” for that secure place to go. This is the employment search criteria for the next engagement – that safe place to go, and will be communicated to those directly or indirectly assisting you in the search.

The four items above, in aggregate, serve to validate both an exit, and potential new employment (i.e., arrival).

Preparation:

Preparation is re-iterative. Hence, the verb “draft” is used for these actions, anticipating iterative refinement of the deliverables.

  1. Draft your search plan. The where, where, when, who, how, why of the job search.

Include such things as:

  • Resume/CV review and update.
  • List/catalog available employment support resources, such as head hunters, employment intelligence networks, personal office automation resources (fax, email, web site, word processor, etc.)
  • Marketing plan, including communication and presentation plans
  1. Draft the list of tactical actions. AlphaAbsalom, and jhnzr have given you some of these. There will be others that fit into the search plan.
  2. Draft your exit capability plan. This is the plan for the capability you want upon exit. This capability is what you present to the next employer as your total qualifications. It is the total of your capabilities today, plus capabilities acquired by the time you exit, via self-development and training activities.
  3. Draft the schedule. This may be absolute or relative; or a combination of both.

Execution:

These items are not serial; but occur in parallel, with some offset.

  1. Records retention – what records go with you? Set up (or review) your records retention system to ensure you take appropriate records with you. This has legal implications and ramifications, so ensure you operate legally.
  2. Build final capability – self-development actions and activities to achieve the targeted exit capability.
  3. Marketing yourself – the where, where, when, who, how, why of marketing yourself to the employment market.
  4. Communication – how you communicate. Build a communication matrix and work the matrix.
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Who
  • How
  • Response method/time
  • Why
  1. Presentation – what you present to potential employers and networks, and what you present to the current employer. Build a presentation matrix and paint the image:
  • What
  • Where
  • When
  • Who
  • How
  • Why
  1. Financial review – determination of the financial aspects of exiting for new employment

What are your financial requirements for the transition? Current compensation, income augmentation, compensation requirements of new employment, etc.

  1. Ongoing management of effort – managing to the plan, periodic plan review and adjustment. Manage it as a project: Gantt chart., tasks, dependencies, resources, change management, etc.

Close Down:

  1. Closing correspondence – final communication to stakeholders and network closing out this effort.
  2. Release resources
  3. AAR – After Activity Review of this project.
  4. Archive artifacts

The Upshot…

A carefully prepared exit strategy considers both leaving the current organization and entering the next.

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