How to Design Your Own Exit

Things change fast on the web. Reading the LinkedIn profile of a web working friend recently, I was surprised by how little time this very successful individual had spent in any one role. With that kind of changeability, it’s easy for web workers to treat each position as little more than a whistle stop on life’s grand tour.

But, rather than simply bowing out of a job when something better comes along, it can be more rewarding and satisfying — and better for your reputation and future prospects — to design your own exit from the company.

When Your Exit Matters

It’s exciting to be part of the upswing — to become part of a burgeoning company and help to make it great. Whether you get in on the ground floor, or come along later to join an established business, many web jobs provide real opportunities to make a difference.

The web jobs I’ve worked in have ranged from those that were largely unspecified, shapeless and frequently changing, to established roles with detailed job descriptions, set responsibilities and benefits provided in accordance with company policy. But most of my web jobs have shared these characteristics.


No matter how seemingly small your sphere of influence may be, if you operate independently of others, with little oversight from superiors, you have responsibility. Walk out the door tomorrow, and your teammates may have trouble picking up the pieces.

In the weeks after I was laid off without warning one Friday afternoon during the dot-com crash, I received numerous calls from my old colleagues, asking where I’d kept certain documents, where they could find projects in progress, and so on. As an autonomous operator who hadn’t even foreseen her exit from the company, let alone planned for it, I’d put no systems or plans in place to help my teammates once I left.

Pet Projects

Many of the roles I’ve had have allowed for creative thinking and initiative. For me, a degree of freedom usually translates to the development of my own pet projects — things that I believe will improve the output of my role, team, or the organization. If you want your pet projects to continue once you leave your web job, you need to plan your exit accordingly.

After I lost my job at that web company, the pet projects I was working on fell in a heap. A direct mail piece I’d been developing with a favored contractor and friend simply slipped into the ether, so I never got to see if it would achieve the results I’d been aiming for, and my team never benefited from all that work. I didn’t even get samples of the finished piece for my folio.

Mutual Concern

I don’t know about you, but I’ve respected the work and staff of most of the companies I’ve worked for. So, whether it was the organization’s philosophy that hooked me, or the awesome capabilities of my colleagues, when I left most roles, I wanted to make sure everything was motoring along nicely for my teammates.

In short: if the company had respected me, I wanted to show my respect for the company by making things as easy and successful for its staff as possible.

Design Your Own Exit

The tasks and strategies you use to design your exit from an organization you love will depend on the company, your role in it and yourself.

I’ve left jobs under all circumstances: Showered with gifts, unceremoniously laid off, with successors chosen and primed, and without any clue as to who will pick up my tasks on Monday. The circumstances of your departure and replacement can have a significant impact on the amount of preparation you need to do.

Also remember that, for financial reasons, many companies prefer to have as concise a handover period as possible between a given role’s incumbents. Of course, long handover periods usually aren’t possible for the incumbents themselves.

When you think about the degree of autonomy you have, how much you want to support the company and your colleagues, and all those pet projects you want to continue after you leave, obvious exit-planning steps will present themselves:

  • Prepare external parties like contractors for the change, for example, by helping them to establish other contacts within the organization and giving them the information they need to ask smart questions that will build a strong relationship with your successor.
  • Identify precisely what your colleagues need from your role in order to do their jobs, and integrate the processes that achieve those aims into your role.
  • Leverage the enthusiasm and support of like-minded teammates to develop and build on pet projects that support the company’s aims.
  • Set expectations among appropriate colleagues to create demand for those pet projects.
  • Create handover documentation that clearly guides your successor to complete the tasks associated with the role, and provide it to your teammates for feedback, as well as their own information.
  • Document the underlying processes, outsourced talent, and functional information associated with your role or projects on the company wiki or intranet.
  • Make sure the computer you hand over to your successor has all the technology you believe they’ll need already installed, and that any documents you leave on it are logically organized and clearly arranged; do the same with physical files and resources.
  • Ensure your team members have your contact details in case they have any questions following your departure.

As you can see, designing your exit isn’t simply a matter of saving a process flow to the shared drive: it’s about inculcating appropriate expectations, promoting a philosophy, and supporting the team culture that you’ve appreciated during your stint with the company. Ultimately, it’s about trying to leave your team and your role in a better state that you found them.

Have you ever designed your own exit from a company? What steps did you take to make it as seamless as possible?

Image by stock.xchng user alexbruda.

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