Here are four steps to help transition out of a top role. It is critical to execute the steps in order. (See also: Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges):
Get out clean if it’s an involuntary exit
Most organization leaders are not experienced at dismissing someone, especially senior people, so your departure may be chaotic and traumatic for your manager and the HR folks involved, though not nearly as much as for you. They will have decided on who will tell you that you are leaving, why, and what they want you to do now.
Once the writing is on the wall, it is best not to fight it or to ask for another chance. Draw them out with clarifying questions until you fully understand what is going on, their reasoning, and their intentions. Write down everything they say, word for word, to stay focused and to jog your memory later.
Collect and organize your thoughts before you say or do anything else, especially something you might regret later. Your first objective is to get the best terms you can on the way out. Maintaining civility is your best strategy.
Empty your office and desk, process pending expense reimbursement requests, read through your employment contract and severance agreements to be sure you know what is due you and do what you need to do to get it.
Study the firm’s employment agreement and policy manuals. Explore similar recent termination cases to discover how the organization has treated others who were asked to leave. In the absence of a policy, or if there is a policy but it is not consistently followed, the firm’s actual actions are their de facto policy.
Don’t be vindictive and don’t demand any more than you are due according to consistently enforced company policy, your employment contract, or by law, except as a negotiating strategy to be sure you get what you are due. Unless there is blatant cause, stay away from lawsuits because they take a lot of time, money and exact a huge emotional toll.
If the most generous terms ever offered are better than the terms proposed in your case, you should draw attention to the precedent and ask for an explanation as to why it should not be honored in your case. Explain that you don’t want anything special, just what is fair based on past practices. For example, if you are a long-term employee given two weeks notice per the firm’s written policy but someone else was given two weeks plus an additional week for every year of service, you have good grounds to ask for similar treatment.
Your settlement negotiations will be eased if there is something the firm wants from you, such as a promise not to work for a competitor, your agreement not to sue them for age or other forms of discrimination, non-solicitation of their employees for hire, or your promise not to say bad things about the firm to recruits, competitors, or the press.
Determine who is to represent the firm on your case and focus your energy primarily on working with them to get out clean. More than likely, you will have more time to spend on this than they do, so you can be well prepared for any discussions. Talk to others who have had similar experiences. Seek professional legal counsel only if you feel particularly vulnerable and if you have resources to cover the expense. Most of the benefit may be that your lawyer will be happy to talk to you, though at a hefty hourly rate.
Things to remember to ask for:
- Your computer and any other equipment that has
become part of your life.
- Funds to cover executive coaching, help with writing your resume, legal fees, and outplacement services.
- Personal files and supplies.
- Agreed upon wording for a reference that describes you and your departure in the best possible light.
- Long-term forwarding of emails.
- Continued use of postal, e-mail, voice mail, and secretarial services for a while.
- Cash settlement of accrued vacation, sick days, and overtime.
- Information on continuing your health insurance for up to 18 months under COBRA laws.
Consolidate lessons learned
Before rushing off to find your next job, take time to think through what happened in this job to determine what there is to learn from the experience. Were there warning signs? What could you have done to prevent it? Get past blaming everyone else. Be clear about what you were trying to do and what you had done to make it that way. Study the case to determine what went right and what went wrong.
Write down what you have come up with and review it with a close friend or advisor or two to be sure you are being honest with yourself and that you are seeing everything there is to see.
Do something special
Treat yourself to something that you wouldn’t normally do. Take a golf weekend, or a trip to the mountains. Anything to give you the sense of having had a special, relaxing period between jobs.
Figure out next steps
Determine what you want to do next and read this note on “Three Steps to Hiring Yourself an Employer.”