Exit Strategy – What’s Yours?

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“Chance favors a prepared mind.”
– Louis Pasteur

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On an airplane, before take-off, the Flight Crew always takes time to explain to passengers what they should do in the event they need to hurriedly exit the plane. They don’t wait until an emergency arises to instruct passengers when, where and how to take safety precautions and, if needed, depart the plane carefully. So, too, is it wise to plan for the possible – some would say “eventual” – unexpected “job exit.”

ACTUAL CLIENT HISTORYJocelyn was a successful Cosmetics Marketer for a large, high-end cosmetics manufacturer. She had strong relations with high-end department stores and was quite well known in her industry for her imaginative market planning. But one thing she never thought to plan for: job loss, without warning.

The hiring of a new Chief Marketing Officer (“CMO”) brought about two developments not in Jocelyn’s interests: (1) the new CMO brought with her a new team of Marketers and (2) the new CMO also introduced a new company-wide marketing strategy focused on direct-to-consumer sales, less on the company’s “wholesale” department store channel, Jocelyn’s specialty.

Jocelyn’s “termination notice” was a brief Friday night telephone call from the new CMO advising Jocelyn not to return to the office on Monday. Not having planned on an exit anytime soon, Jocelyn was caught unprepared and ill-equipped, and off-balance, as well.

Had Jocelyn planned and prepared her next steps in the event of a sudden, unexpected job exit she might have avoided, among other things, (a) delay in beginning her job search efforts, (b) the appearance to others that she likely “did something wrong,” (c) loss of unvested stock, (d) loss of annual bonus, (e) loss of annual 401K benefits, and (f) loss of retirement benefits.

In addition, Jocelyn’s abrupt departure entailed immediate denial of access to her company computer, thus loss of all of her significant industry-contact information she needed to get “back on her feet.”

LESSON TO LEARNSimply put, much of success in life requires that, in addition to hoping for the best, you plan and prepare for the worst. In the employment context, that means having an “Exit Strategy” in place.

During initial contract negotiations and in each subsequent opportunity, successful executives focus effort and attention to improving their exit strategy. In Private Equity-penetrated industries, as the anticipated period of equity ownership of “PE” portfolio firms is commonly just three to five years, executive negotiation focuses a great deal on “exit issues.” Just as the “business deal” itself is short-termed, so too must be the exit planning of the “business dealers.”

A Job Exit Strategy also readies you to respond with speed, clarity and strength to an unanticipated job offer from external employers. And, too, a Job Exit Strategy also lowers daily anxiety; having one in place “soothes the nerves.” It enables you to work, sleep and live with less stress and greater confidence that “Come what may, I’ll be OK.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Take some time to consider what and how you might best ensure that even an “out-of-the-blue” job loss would not knock you “off of your feet.” Here are some thoughts to help you:

To Start, Let’s be Clear . . . and Simple.

1. Let’s define Strategy:  A (i) Plan of Action (ii) Designed to Achieve (iii) a Desired Goal. (You might want to repeat that simple definition once or twice to yourself.) 

    1. A Plan is a series of Steps . . . Here, listing each of the Steps you would need to take to transition into a best, next job.
    2. A Design is a Set of “Directed” Steps, that is, focused in a Particular Direction: Here, putting those Steps into a Set of Categories, and in Order of Priority.
    3. A Goal is a desired End Result: Here, Career Transition Without Delay, Without Crisis and With Interests Intact.

2. Thus, an Exit Strategy . . . is a (i) Plan (ii) Designed to (iii) enable achieving your next Goal: job transition with interests intact, if and when your present position ends, most importantly if that end is sudden, unexpected, or otherwise potentially damaging to your interests.

3. Don’t presume – wrongly – that this is a difficult, tiring or burdensome task. An Exit Strategy does not need to be formalized, or complicated. It can begin with a bit of day-dreaming, but the more serious thought and effort you devote to it, the greater will be the rewards of those thoughts and efforts.

A. Begin with the “End” in Mind: Your Desired Goal

4. What New Position would best answer: “If I were to make a move, what would I like to do next, and where?” Doing what? For and with whom? Using which of my present (or future) skills? In what industry? Don’t be afraid to dream big, be daring, or be audacious, but do keep your thoughts within some degree of reason. Many employees use such exit strategies to evaluate “career pivots,” that is, significant change in direction.

5. Having more than one Goal is an asset, not a liability. Don’t fret for a moment if you come up with three or four possible goals; there’s nothing wrong with having options and alternatives. Your answer might even be “Doing exactly what I’m doing now, but maybe for a competitor.” Nothing wrong with that, either.

B. Might There be a Set of Qualifications or Preconditions for the Next Position?

6. Generally speaking, “What would you need to get interviewed or hired for that position?” A license, new degree or language? Familiarity with how that new industry works? A new “working vocabulary” to enable you to “Talk The Talk?” Entry-level experience? Maybe even knowing others in that industry to recommend or advocate for your hiring?

7. A lot of this information is available informally and online. Questions like these may be best answered in an “Informational Interview.” And, too, a wealth of such information is available online, and by taking online courses.

C. Make a Detailed List of “Steps to Take” and Begin Taking Them

8. An Exit Strategy can be little more than an Exit-Oriented “To-Do” List. For each aspect of job transition, there are a number of steps you may need to take, and better to take then now, under no stress, before “the plane begins to nose dive.”

9. Here are Ten Generalized Categories of Steps to Take as elements of your “Exit Strategy To-Do List”:

    1. Assemble Contact Information of Potential Hiring Leads on Your Personal Computer and Phone;
    2. Put Together a List of likely providers of References;
    3. Maintain an updated Profile and Resume;
    4. Prepare a List of Recruiters you have identified as Potential Sources of Employment Leads;
    5. Make certain you have Copies of all your Employment-related Documents;
    6. If you have any kind of vesting (equity, deferred income, retirement, etc.) or conditions on payments due to you, know your eligibility dates for payment, or be certain you know their details and dates
    7. Keep the Names of Employment Attorneys who can promptly provide Guidance and Counsel, insight and expertise; 
    8. Continuing Restrictions upon your future employment are of special importance to you as they could significantly impede your career mobility;
    9. Make certain that you keep current on all Career licenses, registrations and continuing education requirements; and
    10. Consider increased participation in Industry-related charitable activities to nourish those industry relations

10. Whenever and wherever you can, improve your Exit Strategy. When negotiating a new job, you should negotiate for terms and conditions that contribute to an improved exit strategy. The same goes for each opportunity to do likewise, as examples, (a) adjusting the timing of any resignation, (b) choosing “advancement” of sales commissions if available, (c) requesting adjustments in equity “award agreements” with this thought in mind, (d) even requesting “pro rata” bonus payments if and when you have an opportunity to do so. And, of course, maintaining at home copies of all critical employment documents, and having at home all data and contact information you might need if “the front door to the office one day had its locks changed.”

11. Returning to Where We Began: the “Flight Crew’s Emergency Exit Instructions”: The Flight Crew are first-and-foremost responsible for passenger safety. They are given just a few minutes to convey important – potentially life-saving – information, to passengers who are otherwise quite distracted or preoccupied.

We are something of a “Flight Crew,” ourselves, with just a few minutes to share information we believe to be of considerable value, maybe not today, but quite possibly when you least expect it. Why plan for something that might never happen? We say, “Why not?”

It’s never too early to have an Exit Strategy in place, so that you may (i) act swiftly, (ii) based on solid information often not “at your fingertips,” (iii) act strategically to protect your interests, and (iv) as needed, utilize the helping hands of others, all to make an employment transition to your least disadvantage and greatest benefit.

As I often counsel clients, “Want a good life? Just do good things.” It really does work. Give it some thought. And, as a good deed, you might want to pass this article on to anyone you know in this circumstance. You’ll be glad you did.

Just Click [ Here ] to Forward this Article to a friend.

In Summary . . .

Noted author Steven Covey wrote that one of the seven key habits of highly effective people is that they “Begin with the end in mind.” He did not mean “end of your job,” but his insight remains applicable. Accept that all good things come to an end, and an end you are prepared for will surely be the best possible end. Having an “Exit Strategy” will make not only the “end” of your position that much more inclined toward your interests, but your entire working relation likely that much more enjoyable, lower-stressed and overall successful. An Exit Strategy is like a folded parachute at hand.

Our special “Thanks!!” go out to Blog Family Member Dave K. for this simple but powerful quote, as it applies so powerfully to this matter, and to so many aspects of our lives.

Upcoming Newsletters in Progress – Coming Soon . . .

    1. Bankruptcy and Employment Contracts – What Happens?
    2. Observed Wrongdoing at Work? – What to Do
    3. Workplace Dispute? – HR is Not Your “Protector”

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Best, Al Sklover


SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation and navigation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you – traps and pitfalls, included – and to avoid the likely bumps in the road. Having an Exit Strategy at hand . . . “just in case” . . . is one of the very best ways to do just that.   

Always be proactive.  Always be creative.  Always be persistent.  Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

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Sklover Working Wisdom™ is a trademarked newsletter publication of Alan L. Sklover, of Sklover & Company, LLC, a law firm dedicated to the counsel and representation of employees in matters of their employment, compensation and severance. Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice. Please note that Mr. Sklover is admitted to practice in the State of New York, only. When assisting clients in other jurisdictions, he retains the assistance of local counsel and/or obtains permission of local Courts to appear. Results obtained by some clients have no bearing on results obtained by other clients. Copying, use and/or reproduction of this material in any form or media without prior written permission is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. For further information, contact Sklover & Company, LLC, 45 Rockefeller Plaza, Suite 2000, New York, New York 10111 (212) 757-5000.

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