A thought crosses your mind while sitting in your cubicle at work, “One day I’d like to run my own business.” You’re not alone. A recent study on employee engagement, (complimentary copy of the article with registration) conducted by the Corporate Executive Board's Corporate Leadership Council (CLC) and published in the May 2010 issue of Harvard Business Review, found that 25 percent of the "employer-identified, high-potential employees" plan to leave their current companies within the next year.
It’s too soon to tell whether these individuals will look for new employment or follow the path of a micropreneur--business owners with ten or fewer employees--who often provide large corporations with products or services as micro-suppliers.
Handling your workplace exit with finesse positions you nicely for converting your current employer into your first customer.
Step 1: Plan your exit strategy.
Every good business begins with a plan and checklist that includes tasks for each of these seven steps. Your exit timeframe should consider three key points:
- How long you / your family could afford to not receive your regular paychecks
- Employer restrictions on hiring former employees, i.e. you might not be able to become a business-to-business micro-supplier for a year (or longer)
- Your Plan B is solid. For example, you could consult via a boutique consultancy or directly with your company’s current suppliers
Step 2: Develop your succession plan.
One of the best ways to leave a legacy and a bridge that you can re-cross later is to develop a solid transition plan for the organization. Begin by documenting your job responsibilities in detail for use in training and coaching your replacement.
Is there someone in your immediate circle, former project team members or colleagues who you could recruit to assume your position following your exit? You might consider a face-to-face or virtual “brown bag” lunch time discussion about the differentiating aspects of your role. What’s fun about your job, interesting to outsiders who may not have a clue about what you do? People who show up could be potential replacements for you, so be sure to get their names and email addresses and follow-up with them.
Step 3: Build your early customer base.
Planning to return to your employer doesn’t mean that you have to work with your current department or business unit. Although certainly an option, this is the time to look across the organization to see what groups could use your expertise.
Expand your reach by collaborating with others on cross-functional projects that interest you, with the goal of building your list of decision-makers beyond your immediate circle.
Step 4: Rebrand your expertise.
Ask people how they would describe your expertise. You might discover opportunities not previously considered. This is an important part of the reinvention process. If your passion lies in one area, but others don’t see your strengths in this area, now is the time to begin rebranding yourself as an expert of “X, Y or Z”.
Leverage your company’s social media tools via internal blogs where you post articles and tips about your “evolving expertise”. The goal is to lay a new transition path for others—you want people to discover what else you bring to the table.
Consider starting an external blog to differentiate and position yourself in the marketplace. If your business idea reflects your current expertise, then by all means blog about your competency in this area using your current title. Note: be sure to follow your organization’s social media policies if you’re blogging under the company name.
Step 5: Set-up your business.
Begin taking low cost or no cost courses, teleseminars, and webinars for starting a business. You’re in great shape if you’ve been applying the principles of corporate entrepreneurship. Now is the time to contact an attorney and verify that your idea doesn’t conflict, but complements your company’s products and services, or addresses gaps in what isn’t being offered today.
Cautionary note: developing your new product or service while employed is a gray area, one that is best discussed with your lawyer who can address potential issues associated with work for hire and conflicts of interest with your current employer.
Step 6: Begin your transition.
This is when you begin connecting the dots and all your hard work comes together. Expect first-time jitters, but like all opening acts this is where you see what’s working and what still needs work.
At this stage, you’re likely three months from any formal notification to your company.
Step 7: Graceful exit, powerful entry.
You officially resign with your employer at this point. Advise your manager and HR representative that you are flexible with your end date (since you’re not joining a new employer).
Share your succession details with them: documentation for training your replacement and suggestions for qualified individuals. If you’re open to training your replacement, now is the time to mention it. It’s also a great time to negotiate your exit package and, perhaps, even your re-entry terms.